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MARRIAGE DIGEST: Group has $1 million to battle Florida marriage amendment; …

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–When Floridians next year consider a proposed constitutional marriage amendment, opponents will have at least $1 million to campaign against it.

Officials with an anti-amendment group known as Florida Red & Blue said July 10 they already had raised that much money and believe they can defeat the amendment, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. Most of the money came from a dozen major donors, led by a $250,000 gift by philanthropist Don Burns, the newspaper said.

A majority of states, 27, have adopted similar amendments, which are aimed at preventing state courts from legalizing “gay marriage.” Massachusetts had no such amendment, and in 2003 its highest court issued a landmark decision redefining marriage to include homosexual couples.

“Money is the life’s blood of having a conversation with the voters,” Jon Kislak, board chairman of the campaign committee, was quoted as saying. “This is about all Floridians, not just some Floridians.”

Technically, the amendment has yet to qualify for the ballot. It still needs about 18,000 signatures to reach the 611,000 needed by Feb. 1. Petitions are available at www.Florida4Marriage.org.

But even if it qualifies for the ballot, it’s not guaranteed to pass — even in a conservative-leaning state like Florida. That’s largely because — thanks to a new law — the amendment, and others like it, will need 60 percent of the vote to pass.

“This is going to be the most aggressive, robust effort on both sides that’s been undertaken in any state,” John Stemberger, a representative with the pro-family Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage, told the Tallahassee Democrat.

An amendment has failed at the ballot only once — last year in Arizona — and opponents believe Florida could join that list. Similar to what amendment opponents in Arizona did, amendment foes in Florida likely will try and switch the subject from “gay marriage.” The amendment would ban “gay marriage” as well as “any legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent.” Opponents say they will focus on that latter phrase and how they say it would impact heterosexuals — an almost identical tactic used successfully in Arizona.

Stemberger called such strategies “scare tactics.” A number of other states have amendments with similar language, which is intended to prohibit both Vermont-style civil unions and California-style domestic partnerships.

SUIT FILED OVER BAR EXAM — A man who failed a Massachusetts bar exam has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming he flunked because he refused to answer a question about “gay marriage.” Answering the question, he said, would have violated his religious beliefs.

Stephen Dunne, 30, scored 268.866 on the exam, but needed a grade of 270. He filed a $9.75 million suit in June against the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court in the state, saying the question was “inappropriate.”

His suit, the Boston Herald reported, asks that the question not be considered in his score and that it be excluded from future exams. He calls himself a Christian and a Democrat, the newspaper said.

“There’s a different forum for that contemporary issue to be discussed, and it’s inappropriate to be on a professional licensing examination,” Dunne told the Herald. “You don’t see questions about partial-birth abortion or abortion on there.”

The question stated: “Yesterday, Jane got drunk and hit (her spouse) Mary with a baseball bat, breaking Mary’s leg, when she learned that Mary was having an affair with Lisa. As a result, Mary decided to end her marriage with Jane in order to live in her house with Philip, Charles and Lisa. What are the rights of Mary and Jane?”

One Boston attorney said the lawsuit likely will be unsuccessful.

“Lawyers have to answer questions about legal principles they disagree with all the time, and that doesn’t mean we’re endorsing them,” attorney Tom Dacey said. “You might be somebody who is morally opposed to divorce, but have to interpret the divorce laws of the commonwealth to answer a question about who property is passed to.”

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  • Michael Foust