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Fla. marriage amendment in danger of not making ballot

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–A proposed Florida marriage amendment that just one month ago seemed headed to the ballot now is in jeopardy after a state audit determined the initiative is 22,000 signatures short of the number required.

Officials with Florida4Marriage.org have only two weeks to make up the deficit if the amendment is to appear on the November ballot. Petitions — which can be downloaded at Florida4Marriage.org — must be delivered to the organization’s Orlando headquarters by Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Amendment supporters, including John Stemberger, the Florida4Marriage.org state chairman, are appealing to pastors around the state to promote the amendment the next two Sundays and encourage those who haven’t signed it to do so. Individuals can download the petition on the organization’s website by clicking on “sign petition.”

“We are in a state of constitutional emergency with this announcement and we need immediate action from everyone who supports the Florida marriage amendment,” Stemberger told the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper.

According to a story in the Miami Herald, a “counting glitch” led to approximately 27,000 petitions from Miami-Dade County being electronically counted twice. The glitch also impacted other initiatives, although the marriage amendment is the most high-profile one. Amendment supporters thought the amendment had passed the required threshold of 611,000 in December when the state’s website showed it crossing that mark.

Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal organization, said churches have great legal leeway in promoting the effort in the next two weeks. Staver’s group is promoting the amendment.

“There is no restriction on pastors and churches,” he told Baptist Press. “What I would encourage pastors to do is to distribute a marriage petition to every single member in the congregation and set aside a few minutes to walk them through how to fill it out, and then have the ushers collect those and get them to Florida4Marriage.org by Federal Express. I would not simply have a table in the back, because you could have a several-thousand-member church and only obtain a few hundred signatures that way. We don’t have time to do that anymore.”

Churches, he said, are key.

“I think right now pastors and churches will play the determinative role as to whether we’re going to protect marriage in Florida,” Staver said.

Stemberger said his organization is not interested in whose fault it is that there are now apparently too few signatures for the Florida marriage amendment to go on the ballot. He is calling on national, state and local leaders to “immediately contact their Florida supporters, making them aware of this crisis.”

If adopted, the amendment would permanently bar state judges from legalizing “gay marriage.” Florida does have a law prohibiting such unions, although it can be overturned in court. Amendment supporters note that Massachusetts, which saw its highest court legalize “gay marriage,” has no such amendment. Additionally, three states — Connecticut, Iowa and California — have been sued by supporters of “gay marriage” hoping to change the laws in those states. None of the states have a marriage amendment.

The proposed Florida amendment says, “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Petitions should be mailed to: Florida4Marriage.org, 4853 S. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32806.

The organization also is requesting donations, because $50,000 is needed for immediate costs related to a mailout of 40,000 petitions to new voters.
Based on reporting by Joni B. Hannigan, managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, and Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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