Tallahassee Democrat - "Marriage Amendment Discriminates"

Back Article published Sep 29, 2007

Editorial: Marriage amendment discriminates

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.

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