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Fla. marriage amendment makes ballot

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–A constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage will be on the November ballot in Florida because supporters gathered 92,000 extra petitions, or signatures, in about two weeks after learning a computer glitch had dropped the previous tally below the 611,000 petition requirement.

John Stemberger, chairman of the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage, was notified Feb. 1 by the director of the state Divisions of Elections that the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment was officially certified as Amendment 2 for the Nov. 4 general election ballot with a total of 649,346 valid signatures.

The marriage amendment was the only one of more than 50 active petition drives to qualify, according to the Associated Press.

“We are grateful to God first, and to our supporters second, for this amazing victory,” Stemberger said in a Feb. 1 statement. “What our people did was simply remarkable. They collected 92,000 petitions in about 13 days.”

Noting that paid petition gatherers were not used, Stemberger said, “This is real proof for grassroots momentum for marriage as the union of one man and one woman in Florida.”

“I just wish there was some way I could meet each of the hundreds of thousands of supporters from across the state who have worked so hard and personally thank them,” Stemberger added.

Southern Baptists, he said, played a major role.

“There were many forces, if you will, that contributed to the massive petition collection effort,” he said. “But none were so vital or more important than the Southern Baptist pastors and churches in Florida. This was the single most significant factor in what we accomplished.”

Eight percent of the total number of ballots cast in the last presidential election — 611,000 — is required for a ballot initiative to qualify. Additionally, half of the state’s congressional districts — 13 of 25 — must reach the 8 percent threshold. The marriage amendment surpassed that requirement in 15 congressional districts.

With one major hurdle cleared, the amendment now must garner the support of not simply a majority of votes at the November polls but a super-majority, 60 percent. That 60-percent threshold for all constitutional amendments was approved by voters in 2006. If the marriage amendment gets only 59 percent, it loses.

The text of the proposed 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.”

“The battle has only just engaged and I ask all Florida Baptists to place the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment on their prayer lists until the Nov. 4 election,” Bill Bunkley, legislative consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, told the Florida Baptist Witness in a Feb. 2 statement.

Bunkley congratulated the Florida Baptist pastors and laypersons “who stepped up to the plate to mount this massive grassroots effort.”

Saying that he was “stunned” when informed two weeks ago that the amendment had fallen nearly 22,000 signatures below the requirement after an audit found that 27,000 petitions from Miami-Dade and some from other counties were double-counted, Bunkley said “we know God provided 38,337 more petitions than necessary in just a couple of weeks.”

A majority of states — 27 — have adopted marriage amendments.

One group opposing the marriage amendment, Florida Red & Blue Committee, scoffed at the news the marriage amendment qualified for the November ballot.

“Those pushing this amendment have had three years to collect the required number of petitions. That they met that goal literally at the final hour should send a clear message that Floridians feel the state has more important things to do than create another government intrusion into our private lives,” Jon Kislak, chairman of the group, told the St. Petersburg Times.
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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