It hasn't even held its potentially irrelevant primary yet, but Florida is already being described as the hot spot in November's general election when a new initiative will be on the ballot - one that it is believed could decide whether the Sunshine State turns blue or remains red. The initiative - being sponsored by the conservative Liberty Council - is being called the Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment.
It has already sparked the question: Can any presidential candidate ignore Florida and this amendment, in light of Florida's major importance in November with its 27 electoral votes?
The proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution inched its way onto the Nov. 4 ballot when the Liberty Council in Orlando announced it has enough signatures to allow a vote. The proposal - offered by a group under the auspices of the Council - often referred to by detractors as a right-wing organization - defines marriage as "the legal union of only one man and one woman. " Supporters are organizing under the name Florida4Marriage.org.
The group says it has more than 611,009 signatures - collected over a three-year period - to allow registered voters to decide the issue. The signature requirement is believed to be the last step necessary for posting by the Secretary of State on the November ballot. The Florida Supreme Court has already ruled the proposal meets requirements by focusing only on one subject and "offering voters a clear and accurate summary."
The proposed anti-gay amendment was reportedly drafted by Anita and Matthew Stavor, founder and chairman of the Liberty Council. The organization says it promotes "religious civil liberties", but is often accused of being a pro-Republican interest organization.
The proposal will need a 60 percent majority to become a part of the state Constitution, and that will necessitate a huge turnout, thus possibly affecting Florida's 27 electoral votes.
The amendment seems to go even further than one passed in Ohio during the 2004 Presidential election - an issue that helped deliver the state's electoral votes George Bush and thus, the presidency. The Florida proposal, according to its opponents, will affect not only gay couples but also heterosexual domestic partners, legally recognized in some areas of the state, and will mean insurance programs, hospital visitations and death benefits, and other citizens' rights would be terminated. .
Florida Red and Blue, a statewide non-partisan group, has announced that it has been organizing to fight the proposal. "We are sad that Florida today is one step closer to taking away the existing rights and benefits from millions of Floridians," said Stephen Gaskill, spokesperson for the group. He added that his group is certain Floridians don't want government this deeply involved in their personal lives.
Florida Red and Blue - which has been preparing for the ballot battle for weeks - immediately put out a press release citing a Broward County (Fort Lauderdale ) legally registered domestic partnership of 24 years - Helene Milman (a Democrat) and Wayne Rauen (a Republican). "We just want to live our lives together and not have the government telling us our relationship isn't good enough to be recognized in Florida."
Rauen added, "When Helene was in the hospital, they wouldn't let me in to see her until I proved we are domestic partners. I don't understand why the government cares who I can see in the hospital and who I can't."
John Stemberger of Orlando, who heads Florida4Marrriage, said its amendment "will protect the institution of marriage." He added that even though Florida already has a state law banning gay marriages, this new measure - by being part of the Constitution -would prevent judges from overturning the statute.
Stemberger was also quoted in an Associated Press story saying: "Our research shows children do best when raised by a mom and dad. Dads are not optional."
That comment got a quick response from one newspaper, The Orlando Sentinel. It took an early editorial swipe at the proposal and its sponsors under the headline "Don't Drag the Kids Into This." It said the vote on the proposal should probably be based on "spiritual beliefs" adding that it was wrong to bring "the kids" into the arguments. It noted that the measure - "which is being supported by the Florida Catholic Conference and the Florida Baptist Convention . . . will affect unmarried heterosexual couples" as well as gay couples and was an "intrusion in private matters." It said if passed, it would affect insurance coverage and hospital visitations. It called the measure "troubling."
The announcement by the proponents of the amendment received wide play in Florida newspapers, but with different emphasis. In North Florida publications, it usually got front page attention, but in South Florida, it got minor play. In the most Democratic part of Florida, Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel relegated the story to an inside back page.
The Tampa Tribune quoted a former AARP director, Bentley Lipsconb, who said the measure - as drafted - would have a large impact on elderly couples, many of whom don't marry because it would change their Social Security benefits.
It is widely believed that the amendment may drive social and religious conservatives to the polls in 2008, possibly affecting some races, including the presidency. At the current time, some political pundits, believe, there is little motivation for conservatives to go to the polls unless there is a Republican candidate who measures up to their beliefs. That, of course, could change, depending on the eventual selection of the GOP nominee in September.
Opinions on this most recent "Marriage" amendment are obviously questions which will be asked of presidential candidates, especially during the few days between South Carolina's primary (Jan. 26) and the one in Florida, still scheduled for Jan. 29. But, insiders say it won't have much of an effect until the General Election in November.
Florida's primary date (Jan. 29) - still under review by a Federal judge - is, for the moment, the reason the State's vote is being called irrelevant by some political junkies. The Democratic National Committee has stripped all Florida delegates and the Republican National Committee has cut Sunshine State delegates by 50 percent - because of scheduling an "early" primary, rather than on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.