ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–A broad-based coalition of religious and pro-family organizations — including the Florida Baptist Convention –- launched Feb. 14 an ambitious citizen initiative to amend Florida’s Constitution defining marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
With a backdrop of married couples of all races and ages, the coalition announced the formation of the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage at a news conference in Orlando. The group has launched a website — www.Florida4Marriage.org.
The Florida coalition must collect some 611,000 valid signatures from registered voters by February 2006, but hopes to gather more than 800,000 petitions in order to ensure there are enough legitimate signatures. Before that, however, the coalition needs about 80,000 signatures to send the amendment to the Florida Supreme Court for its required review and approval. Assuming successful evaluation by the Florida high court and enough valid signatures, the amendment will go before Florida voters on the general election ballot in November 2006.
The amendment is meant to safeguard the state from lawsuits seeking to legalize same-sex “marriage.” Although a handful of federal lawsuits in Florida were dropped earlier this year, five state lawsuits seeking to overturn the state’s Defense of Marriage Act law were not dropped. If any one of those lawsuits is successful, Florida would be forced to legalize same-sex “marriage.” An amendment, though, would prevent Florida courts from issuing such a ruling.
The full text of the proposed Florida constitutional amendment reads: “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.”
A copy of the petition is available www.floridabaptistwitness.com/marriagepetition.pdf and at www.Florida4Marriage.org.
Messengers to the Florida Baptist Convention annual meeting last year galvanized the effort to affirm traditional marriage by unanimously adopting a motion offered by Lakeland pastor Jay Dennis urging Florida Baptists to “lead the way and go on record as supporting a statewide constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and is the God-ordained building block of the family and the bedrock of civil society.”
Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall, called on legislators and citizens of the state “to begin the process of such a constitutional amendment.”
Dennis was out of state Feb. 14, but offered his strong support for the petition effort in a statement to the Florida Baptist Witness.
“First Baptist Church at the Mall will definitely be involved in the petition drive and we will encourage other churches to do the same,” he said.
Orlando attorney John Stemberger, head of Florida Family Action, is chairman of the political action committee formed to pass the constitutional amendment. The petition was formally filed Feb. 9 with the Florida Elections Division.
Among the organizations participating in the news conference were the Florida Baptist Convention, Florida Catholic Conference, Florida Christian Coalition, Liberty Counsel, Florida Family Action and Exodus International.
Mat Staver, constitutional attorney and author of the proposed marriage amendment, said that recent actions of a New York state judge to allow same-sex “marriage,” as well as other lawsuits nationwide demonstrate the vital need for a state constitutional amendment protecting marriage.
Representing the Florida Baptist Convention at the news conference was the convention’s legislative consultant, Bill Bunkley, who has participated in the coalition’s strategy sessions leading to the citizen initiative’s launch.
Bunkley told the Witness, “We want to put the fire out before the fire starts,” agreeing that Florida’s DOMA law is vulnerable to attack from judges and homosexual activists.
Since marriage is a critical biblical principle for Christians, Bunkley urged all Florida Baptists to get behind the petition effort, in part, to help Christian families understand the importance of marriage –- as well as to energize Christians who have not been involved in such basic citizenship as being registered to vote. Only registered voters may participate in the petition process.
Although not present at the news conference, the Florida Catholic Conference issued a statement Feb. 14, saying: “We applaud efforts of those groups who by amendment to the Florida Constitution are intending to define and protect the institution of marriage in our state.” Representing more than 2.5 million Catholics in the Sunshine State, the Florida Catholic Conference indicated that the bishops “in the near future” will “decide on appropriate ways the Church will assist this effort.”
In a separate statement, Bishop Victor Galeone of the Diocese of St. Augustine, argued that “the sanctity of marriage is under attack today” and offered support for the “efforts of the Florida Baptist Convention and others to amend the Florida Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.”
At the news conference attorney and former National Football League player O’Neal Dozier characterized as “shameful and appalling” efforts of the homosexual lobby to link its agenda with that of the civil rights movement. Dozier is black.
“The radical homosexual activists are hiding behind the mask of the civil rights movement,” said Dozier, pastor of Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach. “They are hiding a socially destructive agenda.”
Gov. Jeb Bush and other state political leaders have expressed skepticism about the need for a constitutional amendment, arguing that the state’s Defense of Marriage Act already provides a safeguard against efforts to advance “gay marriage.”
“Gay marriages are banned in our state,” Bush said Feb. 14, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “If I can be convinced that there are looming court cases that undermine that statute at the state level or that the law that passed and was signed into law by President Clinton at the national level didn’t solve the problem, then I’d consider being supportive of it.”
The Associated Press reported Feb. 14 that “gay rights” organizations decried the proposed amendment. “Our constitution guarantees equal protection and dignity under the law for all our citizens,” said Stratton Pollitzer, of Equality Florida. “This amendment would single out one group of people for discrimination. That is wrong –- the law should protect everyone equally.”
Last November, 11 out of 11 states adopted various versions of constitutional bans on same-sex “marriage.”
Including Florida, lawsuits are pending in nine states nationwide, seeking the legalization of “gay marriage.” In addition, federal lawsuits against the federal Defense of Marriage Act are pending in California and Oklahoma. If DOMA is overturned, then all 50 states presumably would be forced to recognize “gay marriage.”
This story first appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.
For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage.