TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–Barring an incredible effort by Florida churches in the final days of January, a signature drive for a constitutional marriage amendment there appears likely to fail.
Needing 611,000 valid signatures to place an amendment on the November ballot, the effort in Florida thus far has only 220,000, according to figures posted on the Florida Department of State website. Conservatives say the effort still can succeed, but not unless pastors take the lead by getting their members to sign the petitions, which are available for downloading at www.florida4marriage.org/signpetition.html. The petitions must be delivered to the local county’s supervisor of elections by Tuesday, Jan. 31.
“The pastors have to rise to the occasion. That’s the bottom line,” John Sullivan, executive director-treasure of the Florida Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press.
The Florida amendment would protect the natural definition of marriage, thus preventing state judges from legalizing “gay marriage.” In the past three years, five states without marriage amendments — Massachusetts, New York, California, Washington state and Maryland — have watched judges strike down those states’ respective marriage laws. Although Massachusetts is still the only state to recognize “gay marriage,” that could change by the end of the year.
A “gay marriage” lawsuit is pending in the Florida courts.
“As much as we have tried to get our churches co-engaged with this project … it’s been difficult,” Bill Bunkley, legislative consultant with the Florida Baptist Convention, told BP.
Bunkley encouraged church officials to have their members sign the petitions on the final two Sundays of January — Jan. 22 and Jan. 29. The petitions then must be delivered by Jan. 31 to the local county’s supervisor of elections, who must verify the signatures as valid before forwarding them to Tallahassee.
Bunkley stressed that any petitions sent directly to Tallahassee will be returned and run the risk of not being counted at all. He also said it is too late in the process to send the petitions to the Lakewood, Fla., address that is on the petition.
Florida has 67 counties. The phone number and address of each county’s supervisor of elections can be found in the phonebook, Bunkley said. Contact information also is available online at http://election.dos.state.fl.us/county/index.shtml.
“People need to take it upon themselves to get a copy of a blank petition and head on over to your Office Depot or Staples — you can get copies for six cents apiece,” Bunkley said. “Everywhere you go, ask folks, ‘Are you a registered voter?,’ and if so, ‘Do you believe in protecting marriage between a man and a woman here in the state of Florida. Do you mind signing my petition?'”
Conservatives, Bunkley said, have battled a number of distractions, including hurricanes and the busy seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas. He also said that the late date for the Florida Baptist State Convention — it took place in mid-November — gave Baptists little time to gain momentum before the petition deadline.
Sullivan said “there’s nothing political” about the marriage amendment.
“Some have tried to do the scare tactic of you’ll lose your tax exemption,” he said. “That is not so.”
An extraordinary effort on the part of churches in such short a time is not unprecedented. In 2004, Oregon churches helped gather 200,000 signatures in only five weeks. That state has far fewer churches than does Florida.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage