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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Daytona Beach News Journal Opinion Editorial: Baiting for bigotry

Daytona Beach News Journal

OPINION: Editorial
February 15, 2007
Baiting for bigotry
Gay-marriage issue wrongly used as a vote divider

Gov. Charlie Crist has said he supports civil unions -- but not marriage -- for same-sex couples. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to interpret Crist's recent pronouncement on the subject as a push toward further acceptance.

But when Crist said he doesn't think the GOP should waste any more money fighting the issue, it was a strong rebuke against the leaders of his own party. The anti-gay-marriage issue was more or less manufactured by Florida Republican leaders, who clearly expected to use the question as ballot bait to draw conservative voters to the polls. The numbers don't lie -- the state party ponied up more than half the money reported by, the advocacy group proposing a constitutional amendment "banning" same-sex marriage.

Florida doesn't need this kind of divisiveness, especially in the form of a question that starts out with an implied lie. Florida's laws already deny marriage to same-sex couples; there's no legal rationale to put the issue in the constitution.
That didn't stop Republican leaders, who also failed to consider -- or disregarded -- the bigotry and potentially vehement backlash that a gay-marriage amendment would be guaranteed to ramp up.

Crist's disapproval should be the finishing nail to this ill-conceived notion. The effort was already hamstrung by voter disinterest: Supporters angled to have it on the 2006 ballot, but fell short of required signatures and might not make it in 2008 either.

Instead, state leaders should start looking for a more rational and fair-minded approach, starting with a cool-headed look at civil unions.

A civil-union statute wouldn't give gay and lesbian couples the justice they deserve, but it would provide protections against many of the problems that beset committed same-sex couples. For example, gay couples would gain legal status to settle property and child-custody matters without lengthy, expensive and often painful court battles. It would be easier for same-sex partners to obtain health coverage -- a benefit some of the state's largest companies already extend to the partners of their employees. And lifelong partners would be able to make health-care decisions for each other, instead of being pushed away from the bedside of the person they love.

The state should also reverse its cruel and illogical ban on gay couples adopting -- a goal that's easily accomplished with legislation that elevates a child's best interests above all other considerations.

Crist could have taken a far bolder stand in favor of human rights for same-sex couples. But his statement still carries a lot of weight. Instead of justice, a cadre of GOP leaders chose division and rancor. Instead of priorities all Floridians share -- property insurance, public safety, education -- this same group is spending party money to exploit same-sex families for political gain. It's time to stop.