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Monday, October 6, 2008

Marriage Ban Is More Than Gay Issue, Opponents Say

South Florida Business Journal
Marriage Ban Is More Than Gay Issue, Opponents Say
By Paul Brinkmann South Florida Business Journal
October 6, 2008

Some South Florida leaders are concerned about the impact a gay marriage ban would have on competitiveness and the workforce.

Florida voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to include a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution. But, the impact of the ban is being debated, and some South Florida leaders believe it could result in losing some talent and benefits for some employees.

The biggest official opposition to the ban comes from the Miami City Commission, Mayor Manny Diaz and, recently, a unanimous vote by the Broward County School Board. The city’s stance was partly prompted by concern over the impact to its fairly new domestic partner registry.

The language of the amendment reflects current state law in terms of defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. But, the next clause of the amendment is what worries some local officials: “No other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

That part of the amendment could lead to challenges for domestic partnership benefits offered by local schools, governments and businesses, said Gary Resnick, an attorney with the GrayRobinson law firm in Fort Lauderdale and a member of the Wilton Manors City Commission.

Resnick is among 132 lawyers who have signed a letter warning of the amendment’s legal ambiguity and impact on benefits. The letter is posted on the opposition Web site

A 2006 report from the Florida Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research concluded that the amendment “provides no definition for the phrase ‘substantial equivalent thereof,’ which lends to the ambiguity of the wording of the proposed amendment.”

Adding such vague language in the amendment “is likely to deliver unanticipated repercussions and could substantially alter our state both economically and legally,” the report said.

Lawsuits and morale

Some local businesspeople have taken to writing columns in local media, highlighting their concerns.

Hank Klein, executive director for business development at Cushman & Wakefield in Miami, wrote in a Miami Herald column that the amendment “could adversely impact our business development efforts.”

According to Klein, the amendment could invite lawsuits and damage morale, while representing “unnecessary government intrusion in people’s personal lives that could diminish Florida’s ability to attract businesses to expand or relocate here.”

The biggest pro-amendment group is based in Orlando and also led by an attorney, John Stemberger, who has supported marriage bans as president of the Florida Family Policy Council.

In a recent column in the Orlando Sentinel, Stemberger said warnings about the amendment’s impact on other issues amount to “scare tactics” by gay rights groups.

He wrote: “The opponents make fraudulent and deceptive arguments without a stitch of legal authority that ‘seniors and unmarried persons’ will somehow lose Social Security benefits and health insurance ….”

Stemberger added that the Florida Supreme Court has ruled Amendment 2 is about the “singular subject” of marriage, not benefits.