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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fla. fights to keep marriage ban out of constitution

Fla. fights to keep marriage ban out of constitution

October 11, 2008 by MoonViper Content Services
Filed under Miami Gay News

With less than four weeks remaining until Florida voters decide the fate of a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, opponents of the measure are fighting to keep it under the 60 percent threshold it needs to succeed.

Recent polls on the gay marriage ban — known as Amendment 2 — showed the measure lacking enough support to be added to the Florida Constitution, although passage of Amendment 2 was within the poll’s margin of error.

Some 58 percent of respondents in a Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times conducted Sept. 14–17 supported Amendment 2, while 37 percent opposed it and 5 percent were undecided. The poll of 800 Florida voters had a 3.5 percent margin of error.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken around the same time showed 55 percent of voters supporting Amendment 2, with 41 percent opposed.

“It’s just right at the razor’s edge,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of the statewide gay rights group Equality Florida.

Smith also leads Fairness for all Families, an ad-hoc group of more than 260 organizations that have united to defeat Amendment 2 on Nov. 4.

“Polling does show a decline in support for this amendment, and I think that’s a result of the massive statewide effort going on,” she said. “The fact that they haven’t hit the 60 percent mark in any of the polling is significant. It’s great news, it’s important, but it is by no means a reason for us to hold back.
“This is a leave-nothing-on-the-field moment for fair-minded Floridians.”

While many gay activists have focused on the battle to defeat California’s Proposition 8, a measure to ban gay marriage in the Golden State, a fierce battle also is occurring in Florida.

Republicans in the conservative-leaning state favor Amendment 2 by a 74-21 percent margin, while 50 percent of Democrats support the amendment, according to the Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times poll.

Advocates of Amendment 2, which secured a spot on the Florida ballot via a voter petition drive in February, were heartened by polling that shows them within striking distance of victory in November.

“It shows this is going to be an extremely close race,” John Stemberger, founder of the conservative group Florida4Marriage, told the Orlando Sentinel. “Our people are very motivated. Our supporters understand the importance of the issue.”

Stemberger declined to grant an interview to a gay newspaper.

Arizona is the only state to ever defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, but Florida may be conducive to becoming the second state to reject such a proposal.

Unlike most states that require a simple majority of voters to ratify a constitutional amendment, 60 percent of Floridians must vote for the gay marriage ban for it to be adopted.

Also, unlike in states such as Alabama, Idaho and Georgia, Florida has “more well organized gay advocacy groups, and we have more urban centers,” said Michael Heaney, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Florida.

“Most of these initiatives have been successful in relatively conservative states,” said Heaney, who noted that Florida is a political swing state, but leans conservative.

“I think that the liberal advocacy groups here in Florida, generally, are mobilized around this,” he said. “I think it’s definitely plausible it can be defeated.”

Same-sex marriage advocates across the country are hoping for Amendment 2 to be defeated, but said beating back a constitutional amendment requires a massive organizational and financial effort.

“I don’t think we have a campaign at that scale in Florida, but because there’s a high threshold for passing the amendment, there is a chance we could pull [a defeat] off,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry.

The Fairness for All Families campaign is hoping to raise $2 million to defeat Amendment 2, although figures are not yet available, Smith said.

Heaney noted that Amendment 2, which has a “reasonably good” chance of passing Nov. 4, could affect the state’s tourism industry.

From Key West to South Beach, Florida has been a top destination for thousands of gay and lesbian tourists. And gay tourism “is extremely important” to the economy of several Florida cities, said Jay Schleuning, a public relations manager for Visit Florida, a tourism marketing firm.

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