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‘Marriage amendment’ draws heated debate

By Staff | Oct 18, 2008

Florida is joining a number of other states considering a voter-approved enactment that defines marriage as between a man and woman. As early voting for the Nov. 4 election begins Monday, many voters agree that Amendment 2 or “the marriage amendment” is the most controversial of all six on the ballot.

This election season, Florida residents will have the opportunity to vote on Amendment 2, which states that “marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

Only three states, including California and Massachusetts, allow same-sex marriage. Connecticut became the third after its Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Oct. 10.

All three states had judges overturn bans based on perceived inequalities in the opportunities between same-sex and heterosexual couples.

Currently in California, Proposition 8 is on the upcoming ballot, which is an amendment similar to Florida’s Amendment 2.

Supporters of the amendment, including the Orlando-based organization Yes 2 Marriage, state that it will prevent appellate judges from making decisions affecting the union of marriage.

State elected officials including Gov. Charlie Crist recently voiced their support for Amendment 2, while organizations such as Say No 2 are keeping a scoreboard of 17 major newspapers across the state who aren’t supporting the amendment.

“The reason we need the amendment is because of the fact there is a national movement by activist judges and our opponents who want to see marriage redefined,” explained John Stemberg, chairman of Yes 2 Marriage. “There are really profound, legal, moral and social consequences to doing that.”

Current law prevents same-sex marriages in Florida, but Stemberg explained that Amendment 2 would prevent the Florida Supreme Court or other appellate courts from invalidating state bans on same-sex marriage.

“We aren’t going to sit around and wait until judges do that like they did in Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut,” said Stemberg.

Say No 2 is one organization opposing the amendment. They say it’s an example of government intrusion into the personal lives and relationships of Florida’s residents. Furthermore, the Miami-based group stated it could take benefits away from unmarried senior citizens or adults in a domestic partnership.

“The reason seniors don’t remarry is because they could lose their widow pensions. If this amendment passes they could be prohibited from visiting each other in the hospital or making emergency decisions,” said Michael Kenny, campaign manager for Florida Red and Blue who is managing Say No 2.

According to Kenny, 87 percent of Florida residents in a domestic partnership are heterosexual. And four separate Florida Statutes already address same-sex marriage, he added.

“There are four laws that do that,” said Kenny. “There are three that prohibit it from happening in the state of Florida and another prohibiting one from another state from being recognized.”

Stemberg believes that the “benefits” argument is a ploy to divert voters away from Amendment 2. He explained that when the amendment was put on the ballot, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that it deals with the definition of marriage and not benefits.

“They’ve lost in every state because they keep arguing that gay marriage is good idea. Their strategy was to say that this will take away benefits,” said Stemberg.

Kenny, on the other hand, discussed examples in Ohio and Michigan where marriage protection amendments phased out benefits for public employees and domestic partnerships used for health benefits and pensions.

Another bizarre effect of Amendment 2, he said, involves domestic violence.

When a similar amendment was passed in Ohio, a lawyer for a man charged with domestic violence successfully pleaded the case to a lesser charge, claiming that the couple’s domestic partnership wasn’t considered marriage. The client wasn’t charged with domestic violence.

“This isn’t about gay marriage. This is about how it affects a whole range of things,” said Kenny.