Computer Glitch Stalls Anti-Gay Amendment To Florida's Constitution

Computer Glitch Stalls Anti-Gay Amendment To Florida's Constitution
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Conservative efforts to amend the Florida constitution with an anti-gay marriage law stalled this week. The amendment's backers have fallen 22,000 signatures short of the 611,000 necessary to place it on the ballot this coming November. Supporters now have only until Feb. 1 to collect additional signatures. But with such a tight deadline, the proposal seems near impossible for 2008, the Miami Herald reported today. The proposal would need 60% of the vote to become law.

Computer glitches are being blamed for the signature shortfall. State officials and election officials in the Miami area are both blaming each other for the glitch which apparently was caused by "over-counting" or counting each vote twice. The news of the glitch had the office of Secretary of State Kurt Browning checking out the state's computer system, and Miami-Dade elections chief Lester Sola was quoted as saying he had warned the State Dec. 21 that his county' tally needed "recounting."

It was only three weeks ago that the Orlando-based Liberty Council announced - with great fanfare - that it had collected enough names to assure the amendment's placement on the Nov. 4 ballot. The proposal to amend the Florida Constitution made national headlines.

John Stemberger, chair of the Liberty Council and a well-known attorney for conservative causes, said, "The fight will continue." However, the group apparently is out of financial resources to wage a statewide effort and can no longer depend on the Florida Republican Party to fund its campaign. Since GOP Gov. Charlie Crist - known as a moderate - took office, the party has stopped giving the group cash.

Opponents took the news of the name-counting glitch apprehensively. "There are still those out there who would like to take away our personal liberties," said Stephen Gaskill, spokesperson for Florida Red and Blue, a statewide non-partisan group organized to fight the petition. He added that his group is positive Floridians don't want government this deeply involved in their personal lives, but said citizens should be wary of the Feb. 1 deadline.

In a widely distributed press release, Jon Kislak, chair of Red and Blue, urged caution. "Supporters of the so-called Marriage Protection Amendment have been collecting signatures for four years. They have had ample time to turn in sufficient signatures to qualify their petition. The law is clear that they must have the necessary number of signatures certified before February 1. We will continue to watch with great interest their efforts. We have every reason to believe that the various Supervisors of Elections will take all actions necessary to protect the integrity of the petition process and to ensure that every signature certified is a valid signature."

Florida already bans same sex marriage, but the Liberty Council says the constitutional amendment is needed to fight potential lawsuits. The amendment would have gone even further than one passed in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election - an issue that helped deliver that state's electoral votes to George Bush, and with them the presidency.

The Florida proposal, according to its opponents, would have affected not only gay couples but also heterosexual domestic partners, legally recognized in some areas of the state, and would mean insurance programs, hospital visitations and death benefits, and other citizens' rights would be terminated.

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