Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Back Article published Sep 29, 2007
Floridians are currently witness to the time-honored but hardly honorable practice of creating the illusion of a crisis where there isn't one. Don't fall for the ruse.
This time its practitioners want us all to believe that the institution of marriage is under attack. Their straw man is gay marriage, and if it ever becomes recognized as valid and legal, they suggest that the pillars of civilization will crumble.
The best way to protect the sanctity of marriage, they insist, is to enshrine within the Florida Constitution new language that defines marriage as "the legal union of only one man and one woman," and further says that "no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."
The Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage is close to collecting the 611,000 signatures that have to be verified by Feb. 1 to get on next year's ballot.
But guess what? Marriage between two members of the same sex is already illegal in this state, and only legislative action - highly unlikely in Florida in the foreseeable future - could change that.
Whatever side of the issue one may be on - and we respect the fact that many decent Floridians oppose gay marriage - the appropriate forum for debate and action is the Legislature, where statutory law is made. It is not the state constitution, which is intentionally much more difficult to change.
This is not simply a technicality of lawmaking. The average Floridian makes little distinction between a statute and a constitutional provision: Both have the force of law. A constitutional ban on same-sex marriage - the current cause celebre of the religious right - could have more far-reaching implications.
Opponents of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment say a constitutional ban could not only keep gay couples from marrying, but also prohibit gay and straight domestic partners from qualifying for health-related and employment benefits. It could have particularly adverse effects on seniors, which is why former Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Bentley Lipscomb opposes the ban.
It is, in effect, a sledgehammer approach to a "problem" that supporters have created in the wake of efforts elsewhere to legalize gay marriage. Enshrine a ban in the constitution and problem solved, they figure. As for collateral damage . . . oh, well.
Make no mistake about who's behind it. Florida4Marriage.org, the organization supporting a gay-marriage ban, posts on its Web site a link called "Arguments for Marriage." Included among several articles are ones by James Dobson, an icon of the religious right, and Glenn Stanton, a policy analyst at Focus on the Family, the organization founded by Mr. Dobson.
More than two dozen states have taken the route that Florida4Marriage.org wants our state to travel, amending their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage. Arizona wisely rejected a similar effort last year, and Floridians need only to ask whether that state's failure to jump on the anti-gay bandwagon has resulted in a collapse of everything good and decent there.
You haven't read those headlines because it hasn't happened.
Don't be fooled: Enshrining this proposed amendment in our constitution would discriminate against some Floridians under a thinly veiled disguise that's not needed in the first place.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
September 23, 2007
Our view: Say no to bigotry
Florida's proposed same-sex marriage ban threatens everyone's protections
When misguided religious and political groups attempt to deny gays legal rights under the guise of protecting marriage, you better watch out for your own rights.
That's what is happening in Florida, as supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage try to get the issue on the November 2008 ballot.
Here's what the proposed amendment says:
"Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."
Here's why -- behind the legalese -- the amendment is dangerous and immoral, and should be rejected by voters.
• It would write discrimination into the Florida Constitution, stripping gays of protections solely because of whom they choose to love or live with.
That's wrong, and makes it unconscionable that U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Indialantic, and state Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach, have endorsed the amendment, according to the Web site of Orlando-based Florida4Marriage.org. which is pushing the issue.
The amendment is also supported by Gov. Charlie Crist, the Florida Republican Party, Florida Baptist Convention, Florida Catholic Conference and fundamentalist Christian groups.
• It's unneeded, because same-sex marriage is already illegal in Florida, as it is in most states.
Supporters of the amendment say constitutional bans are necessary because anti-gay marriage laws can be reversed.
Or struck down by judges, as happened in one Iowa court in August.
But a Maryland court Tuesday upheld that state's law banning same-sex marriage.
That give and take shows that legislatures are exactly where the issue belongs.
And where it should continue to be debated as society strives to make America's great promise of "equality for all" more than a catchphrase.
• The amendment could have widespread consequences for domestic partners of any stripe, and their dependents.
That includes elderly Floridians of either sex who live together for economic reasons, but are unmarried.
Because the amendment "makes no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual, the only people conceivably not left stripped (of protections) are certain married couples," says Merritt Island civil rights attorney Mark Tietig, who opposes the amendment.
For example, domestic partners who receive benefits through some employers could lose them.
That's already happening in other states.
Ohio state Rep. Tom Brinkman has sued Miami University, a public institution, for offering domestic partner benefits, citing that state's constitutional ban.
If his suit is successful, one consequence will be that children of gay couples employed at the school will lose health insurance coverage.
A Michigan court has also ruled public employers can't offer benefits to unmarried couples, because of that state's constitutional ban.
The amendment further jeopardizes basic legal protections like inheritance rights, hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights for anyone outside its narrow limits.
It is, in short, a vengeful, bigoted proposal flown under the false banner of a religious cause.
September 13, 2007 | Editorial
Proposed gay marriage amendment lacks rationale
Floridians have had enough of divisive politics over recent years ---- yet that never seems to stop people who have an ax to grind and plenty of money to force discussion.
As of last week, it seems likely that supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage will get their issue on next year's ballot. Florida4Marriage.org, the group behind the proposal, has raised more than $500,000 (and spent most of that on direct-mail campaigns) and should have the required signatures by Feb. 1. But the group has yet to make its case for altering Florida's Constitution to defend against something that's already banned by state law. As worded, the amendment could also affect the rights of unmarried, heterosexual couples -- by saying that "no other legal union" can be accorded any of the rights of marriage.
Nor can the group provide rationale for the substance of their proposed amendment. Allowing gay and lesbian couples to form legally recognized bonds poses no threat to society. To the contrary -- it introduces the same stabilizing force that marriage provides for heterosexual marriages, along with the same legal protections. Under current law, homosexual couples lack the most basic rights, including the ability to stay by a sick partner's hospital bedside or negotiate custody of children.
Society is already recognizing the need to change. Many employers now grant insurance benefits to committed same-sex partners, and many states are including sexual orientation in the list of legally prohibited bases for discrimination.
Florida should move forward, though it would take action on the part of state lawmakers to make that forward step reality. This amendment, if approved by voters, would force the state in the other direction -- backwards, to a time when discrimination was not just allowed, but mandatory.
September 6, 2007
by Jim Saunders
Tallahassee -- As an Iowa court decision refuels a national debate about the issue, Floridians appear headed toward voting next year on a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages.
Backers of the proposed amendment are getting close to having enough petition signatures to put the issue on the November 2008 ballot, potentially setting up a major political fight.
Florida already has a law that prevents gay and lesbian couples from marrying, but it's not part of the constitution.
Orlando lawyer John Stemberger, who is leading efforts to pass the amendment, said Florida needs to put the ban in the constitution because a judge could overturn the current law.
An Iowa judge last week struck down that state's ban on same-sex marriage, briefly allowing gay couples to wed. The decision was later stayed, pending an appeal.
"Iowa is Exhibit A for why the marriage amendment needs to be codified in the constitution," said Stemberger, president of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council. "Massachusetts (the only state that allows same-sex marriages) is exhibit B."
But many opponents argue such bans discriminate against same-sex couples, preventing them from having the same rights as heterosexual couples.
Also, Damien Filer, a spokesman for a coalition called Fairness for All Families, said the proposed Florida amendment could have far-reaching implications for gay and straight unmarried couples.
Filer said, for example, it could affect health care and other benefits that some government agencies provide to their employees' domestic partners. He said people aren't aware "just how broad the impacts of this could be."
Stemberger said, however, the wording of the amendment would not affect such benefits. He called those arguments a "scare tactic."
Same-sex marriage has been a major issue since 2003, when a ruling by Massachusetts' highest court cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry.
In all, 27 states have constitutional provisions that prevent same-sex marriages, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona voters defeated such a proposal in 2006.
Supporters of the Florida amendment need to submit 611,000 verified petition signatures by Feb. 1 to get on the ballot. They had more than 594,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. Also, they need to meet varying signature requirements in at least half of the state's congressional districts.
But Stemberger said it's too early to declare that the issue will go before voters, as lawmakers this year made the ballot-initiative process harder.
As an example, lawmakers made it possible for voters to revoke their petition signatures, adding uncertainty for groups trying to get on the ballot.
If the amendment reaches the ballot, it will need approval from 60 percent of voters to pass. That's because of a 2006 change that increased the number of required votes to pass constitutional amendments, up from a simple majority.
Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor who studies state politics, called the 60 percent requirement the "real wild card."
Jewett said he thinks the amendment will probably pass if it's clear the measure only blocks same-sex marriage. But he said voters might be less likely to support the amendment if it's viewed as potentially taking away benefits from unmarried partners.
August 21, 2007
When the gay issue hits home
By Sharon Kant-Rauch
In more than a year as the Faith editor, I've encountered this phenomenon a number of times: the gay issue as litmus test.
I'll be talking with a pastor or a congregant who will casually interject something like, "Well, we don't believe in gay marriage or anything."
It's a shorthand way of defining the church's beliefs. The assumption is that if you know where the church stands on that issue, you can infer where it stands on others.
When someone makes such a statement, I try to keep a straight face (no pun intended). "Do they know?" I wonder.
I'm a married lesbian. Terry and I had our first ceremony - illegal but love-sanctioned - in 1986 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Tallahassee. The second ceremony - this time legal, still love-sanctioned - was in Canada in 2004. It was officiated by our own Rabbi Jack Romberg, who flew to Toronto to help us tie the knot a second time.
I assume the people I'm interviewing are unaware of that - and I don't clue them in. Although I've been "out" in my columns for seven years, I figure that isn't the time or place to talk about my personal life.
But inside I take note. And what surprises me, every time, is how much I like the person I'm sitting across from. The religious folks I've encountered in my job are by far some of the nicest people I've ever met. They're not the rabid-right religious fanatics whom some in the gay community fear. They're just regular folks, trying to do the right thing.
So I'm even more puzzled by this gay-marriage issue. Most of the people behind the Florida Marriage Amendment that will be voted on next year are from the religious community - maybe even some of the folks I've interviewed.
I wonder whether they realize how mean-spirited this law could become.
On the surface, the amendment is bad enough. It reads: Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.
It's not meant, some proponents say, to abolish such benefits as health insurance for domestic partners. But it could.
A similar amendment, passed in Michigan in 2004, has done just that. By the end of this year, for example, the University of Michigan will be forced to stop providing same-sex domestic-partner benefits to its employees. (University administrators are trying to work around the law, however, because, as the associate vice president for human resources recently wrote, "health insurance is a benefit of vital importance to our faculty and staff.")
The amendment could have other unintended consequences. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida stated in a report that the Florida amendment could also result in loss of benefits for unmarried heterosexual couples and their children.
Just the possibility that some family could lose benefits stops my heart cold. The Tallahassee Democrat has provided domestic-partner benefits for more than five years. It's been a lifesaver for Terry, me and our three kids, particularly because Terry is self-employed. If she and one of the kids were kicked off my plan, she'd have to pay more than $700 a month to get covered - and that wouldn't include dental costs.
We're probably not in danger of losing the benefits, whether the amendment passes in Florida or not, because Gannett is a private corporation. (Typically, it's public institutions that are targeted.) And the folks at FAMU, TCC and FSU wouldn't be affected either - because the state never offered domestic-partner benefits in the first place.
But folks in other parts of Florida - who are already getting benefits - could be affected, including public employees in Broward and Monroe counties and ones in Gainesville, Key West, Miami Beach and West Palm Beach. And of course it could prevent public employers from adding domestic benefits in the future.
I know how important good benefits are. When I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, I was fortunate to be covered under one of the best insurance policies in the country. I believe the care I got saved my life. I shudder to think of Terry's getting cancer and having only bare-bones health insurance because she couldn't be on mine.
Maybe the religious folks I talk with don't understand the harm the amendment could cause. Or maybe it's not as important to them as their religious convictions.
In either case, when they take their stance against gay marriage, I feel as if I've been kicked in the gut.
July 9, 2007
Gay Marriage Hysteria Subsides
When the high court of Massachusetts ruled in 2003 that the commonwealth's constitution gave same-sex couples the right to marry, detractors railed against "activist judges" who were "imposing" their will on the people. Only the people, through their elected representatives, should decide something so fundamental, they said. Thus began an effort to amend Massachusetts' constitution by referendum to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Four years and about 10,000 same-sex marriages later, here's what the people have said: never mind.
To get the referendum on the 2008 ballot, opponents of gay marriage needed only 50 of Massachusetts's 200 legislators to vote for the amendment during consecutive two-year sessions. The first vote at the end of the last session, in January, garnered the support of 62 lawmakers. But the second vote last month attracted only 45. Now the earliest the amendment could hit the ballot is 2012. By then, the response from the people very well might be "What's the big deal?"
Opponents of same-sex unions felt democracy was under attack by the courts, with judges dictating what people could and couldn't accept. Meanwhile, supporters argued that the rights of a minority should not be put to a vote. The ultimate defeat of the referendum was democracy catching up with the court.
Despite dire predictions, the institution of marriage didn't crumble under the weight of homosexuals seeking the rights and responsibility that come with it. The sky didn't fall in Massachusetts. Nor has it buckled in the District of Columbia and the five states that offer civil unions or domestic partnerships to gay couples. Washington state's domestic partnership law goes into effect next month. Oregon's domestic partnership law and New Hampshire's civil unions take effect in January 2008. Acceptance of gay marriage is by no means widespread. Marriage is restricted to one man and one woman by constitutional amendment in 26 states and by state law in 19 others. But the tide is slowly changing. Polls show growing acceptance of gay rights.
And as hysteria gives way to real-life experience, more people will realize that the loving and committed relationships of homosexuals should be recognized.
June 24th, 2007
When states bar gay unions, domestic couples lose perks
After Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2004, more than 20 states rushed to pass constitutional amendments barring the practice. Backers said their initiatives would have no impact beyond marriage. In particular, they disputed the argument that these measures would prevent state and local governments from offering benefits to same-sex partners. As one supporter of Michigan's 2004 initiative told USA TODAY, "This has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman." Skip forward to 2007. Apparently it does have something to do with taking benefits away. In February, a Michigan court ruled that the state's amendment bars public employers from offering health coverage and other benefits to unmarried partners, gay or straight.
Similar moves to revoke domestic-partner benefits are afoot in other states. Kentucky's attorney general recently decided that the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville could not offer such benefits. A lawsuit is pending in Ohio over Miami University's benefits.
These developments expose the disingenuous arguments that surrounded many of the ballot measures. They also underscore the usefulness of civil unions as a middle ground in states that want to reserve the unique status of marriage for heterosexual couples. Civil unions don't carry the religious and cultural significance of traditional marriage, but they can protect gay couples from those who would use marriage laws to deny them benefits.
Some 26 states have passed amendments banning same-sex marriage. (A 27th, Hawaii, passed an amendment empowering the legislature to define marriage, which it subsequently did.) Of these, 18 or 19 can fairly be read to bar civil unions and are likely to have broad effects that go well beyond preserving traditional marriage.
States that prevent public employers from offering benefits to unmarried couples are hurting themselves. Governments, like private sector employers, are in competition for the best and brightest minds. Policies that drive away gay workers needlessly make recruiting and retention harder. This is particularly important at universities, hospitals and other centers of research and innovation where competition for talent can be intense.
Backers of marriage amendments point out the overwhelming margin by which their measures passed. Since 2004, only one state, Arizona, has rejected an amendment. But sentiment is shifting, particularly among younger voters. Polls show about three-fifths of Americans favor legal recognition - either marriage or civil unions - for gay relationships.
It is far from certain whether some of the amendments passed in 2004 would succeed today. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Spain for two years; eventually it might be accepted in the United States. Meanwhile, states that rushed to ban it need to rethink language that is overly broad or likely to produce unintended consequences.
Find this article at: http://www.usatoday.com