TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–A nearly year-long effort to allow Florida citizens to vote on a state constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage failed to gain the necessary 611,000 valid petitions, leaders of the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage announced Feb. 1.
The Florida Division of Elections website reported 456,363 valid petitions as of 10:30 p.m. Feb. 1 — the deadline to qualify the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment for the 2006 general election ballot. The coalition announced it will continue the petition effort with the hope of getting the measure qualified to appear on the 2008 ballot, the next statewide election. Under Florida law, the petitions gathered remain valid through 2008. That means that instead of being forced to start over, the coalition must gather only 154,000 more valid signatures prior to ’08.
According to the tally on the Division of Elections website, the amendment gained more than 250,000 signatures in the final 13 days.
The Florida Baptist State Convention in 2004 adopted a motion calling for a constitutional amendment and reaffirmed that action in 2005. The Florida Baptist Convention contributed $40,000 to the coalition to help underwrite the petition effort.
Bill Bunkley, Florida Baptist Convention’s legislative consultant who also led efforts to educate pastors and churches about the petition effort, told the Florida Baptist Witness he was “profoundly disappointed” that the campaign “fell short.”
Had the amendment qualified for the 2006 ballot, Bunkley said, “This most important and basic issue of marriage, between a man and a woman, would have been reaffirmed and settled this fall in Florida.”
But Bunkley offered a “word of caution to those who opposed our efforts and would claim victory” suggesting “the electorate has rejected our position.”
“I predict that in the months leading to the 2008 election, if a Florida court were to overturn the current statute … a sleeping giant would be awakened across the state and the amendment will pass by a wide margin,” he said.
Bunkley added, “I would like to thank those tireless pastors and lay persons who truly caught the vision and made the petition campaign their priority over the past several months.”
Other than a petition effort, constitutional amendments also may be put on the ballot by action of the legislature. The coalition, however, will not pursue that option.
“The leaders of the major organizations supporting this amendment will not encourage, pursue or support a legislative bill to put a similar amendment on the ballot in 2006,” the coalition said in a statement issued Feb. 1.
John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and state chairman of Florida4Marriage.org, also known as the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage, said in the statement, “The people started this amendment and the people will finish it. If there was ever a need for direct democracy, this is it. We would ask the hundreds of thousands of leaders, pastors and supporters of Florida4Marriage.org to continue their support for this petition effort into 2008 as a non-partisan, non-political approach to preserving natural marriage in Florida.”
The coalition noted that the three other constitutional amendment petition efforts each spent more than $2 million, with two apparently qualifying for the 2006 ballot (apportion districts and tobacco education) and the other failing to qualify (redistricting). In contrast, Florida4Marriage.org was able to spend only about $190,000.
Coalition leaders also pointed to the new, earlier deadline and total number of petitions required for qualifying constitutional amendments as reasons for failure.
“A volunteer-run state petition effort of this magnitude has never been done before in the United States,” the coalition statement said, adding that no other state requires as many signatures or petitions for a citizens’ initiative.
The Florida Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Feb. 8 to review the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment to determine whether the measure meets the constitutional requirement of a single subject. It’s unclear whether the matter will be reviewed by the high court in light of the apparent failure to qualify the amendment for the 2006 ballot.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage