Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Marriage Amendment Divides Black Community; Their Vote Is Crucial, but Political Leaders Think Voters Are Split on the Initiative

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Marriage Amendment Divides Black Community; Their Vote Is Crucial, but Political Leaders Think Voters Are Split on the Initiative

Article excerpt

Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

African-American voters in Florida are a reliably solid base for Democratic candidates and are expected to turn out in high numbers next month to vote for Barack Obama.

But if polls hold true, nearly two-thirds of them may break with their candidate - and other black political leaders - on the state's controversial marriage initiative.

Organizers on both sides think African-Americans are the crucial swing vote on Amendment 2. The measure would add a definition of marriage to the state constitution and outlaw any other union that is the substantial equivalent.

The state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposes the amendment, as does Obama. The NAACP's national president, Julian Bond, and civil rights hero and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., have spoken out against it.

"There's a great deal of suspicion in the black community about who's pushing this and why they're pushing it," said Nadine Smith, co-chairwoman of the No on 2 campaign and executive director of Equality Florida. She said she believes that ultraconservative Republican organizers of the amendment are trying to divert largely Democratic black voters away from issues that really matter.

"As people who have experienced discrimination, we don't want any part in discriminating against others," said Smith, who is African-American. "My feeling is when people understand this ... [it] takes away essential benefits that people rely on, that's when people say, I don't support that."

But polls show proponents of Amendment 2 have made progress. In a statewide poll from the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times in September, 65 percent of black respondents said they would vote yes on Amendment 2.

The campaign's coordinator, John Stemberger, has made a push to reach out to the black community by working with Christian pastors, including Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship on the Westside. McLaughlin was host at a pro-amendment rally of about 500 people at the Potter's House on Monday night.

McLaughlin declined an interview request from the Times-Union to talk about the amendment. But he told rally participants on Monday that it's time to "repair the foundation" of marriage and pass an amendment that failed to get enough signatures to make the ballot two years ago.

"We made the wrong choice the first time [in 2006]," he said. "We've come full circle."

With polls showing that favorable votes on the amendment are just short of the 60 percent threshold needed to pass, campaigns supporting and opposing the amendment are looking to the African-American community. If turnout among black voters is high - as much as 85 percent, according to most estimates - it could tip the scales.

Stemberger said it isn't a liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican or black-white issue. …

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