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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tampa Tribune: Gay Marriage Not The Biggest Threat To Cherished Institution

Tampa Tribune/TBO.Com

Gay Marriage Not The Biggest Threat To Cherished Institution
December 26, 2007

Twenty-seven states have passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages and next November, Florida could become the 28th.

But backers of the amendment shouldn't expect Florida voters, most of whom do not approve of gay marriage, to be exercised about this issue during an election year in which there are so many other important matters to talk about.

Gay marriage is last season's politics.

Besides, Florida already has a law outlawing marriage between people of the same sex, so formalizing a ban in the state constitution hardly merits front-burner status.

Florida law says a marriage made somewhere else between persons of the same sex is "not recognized for any purpose in this state." The language is clear.

Plus, there's the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that says states don't have to recognize gay marriages from other states. That law protects Florida, if the state needs protection, just as it does the other 49.

Yet Florida4Marriage, the sponsor of the proposal, has collected the 611,000 signatures needed to put the amendment, already cleared by the Florida Supreme Court, on the ballot in 2008.
It's easy to accuse the group of prejudice, as its critics have, but Florida4Marriage insists its purpose is to defend traditional marriage and its foundational role in a stable, civil society. The group says state laws are not enough when judges, with the swipe of a pen, can overturn them.
But the issue has also helped forge the political landscape. Republicans have effectively used the gay-marriage ban amendments against Democrats, who want gay votes but don't want to alienate the majority of voters who don't sanction same-sex marriages.

In 2004, when President Bush was up for reelection, 11 states passed marriage bans with vote totals averaging 67 percent. Two years ago, when the Republicans lost control of Congress, seven more states passed bans. However, Arizona voters refused to go along.

We're sympathetic to those who would protect traditional marriage as a sacred trust. These are people who fear for our culture and lament the loss of respect for the institution. But changing the constitution, when it hasn't proven necessary, is not the way to do it.

Americans have grown more tolerant of their gay and lesbian neighbors and are appalled by the violence and discrimination some have faced.

A number of state and local governments have responded by outlawing discrimination based on a person's sexual preference. And an increasing number of businesses are granting spousal benefits to homosexual partners as a way of retaining valuable employees.

Homosexuals should not be denied employment, public accommodation or any of the civil liberties enjoyed by Americans.

But marriage is not simply a civil rights issue. It is an amalgam of faith, values and tradition. Changing its definition is no trifling manner.

But make no mistake. Gay marriage is not the biggest threat to the institution of marriage. Bigger assaults are exposed by divorce rates and the growing number of out-of-wedlock births. Almost half of marriages today end in divorce. In Florida, one in four babies is born to an unwed mother.

To best defend the institution of marriage, we should quit looking for bogeymen where there are none.