Amendment 2 could strip partner benefits from couples
On November 4, Floridians will not only cast their votes for choice of president, vice president and a number of other elected offices, but will also vote on whether to place a restrictive limit on rights in the Florida constitution.
Although Florida law already prohibits recognizing marriage between individuals of the same sex, Amendment 2, the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" if enacted would place in the state constitution language stating that "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."
The amendment was originally crafted and sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida as a tool to boost voter turnout and to provide a wedge to divide their opponents and to marginalize lesbian and gay families. Although the nomination of Barack Obama and the deterioration of the economy have diminished the usefulness of the ballot measure for the Republican ticket, the danger to Floridians posed by Amendment 2 is still immense.
Senior citizens often lose Social Security and other benefits when they marry. So while seniors and others may not or can not marry their partner of the opposite or same sex, they rely upon domestic partner benefits and registries such as those in Gainesville to provide for basic human rights and needs such as the right to visit their partner in a hospital or access to health care coverage through domestic partner benefit programs.
While proponents of the amendment now say they do not consider such situations covered by this amendment, their track record right here in Gainesville is the opposite. In a court challenge to Gainesville's domestic partner benefits policy in year 2000, the Liberty Counsel argued that domestic partner benefits were indeed the substantial equivalent of marriage and therefore in violation of the Florida Defense of Marriage Act.
Furthermore the proponents have failed to demonstrate how a single marriage in Florida is protected by this amendment. Instead the amendment serves only to underscore a fundamental injustice. If one is morally or otherwise opposed to same sex marriage, they have a powerful option: they can opt to not marry someone of the same sex. But Amendment 2 and proposals like it seek to impose a discriminatory restriction on those whose religious and other personal beliefs differ. There are religious organizations that wish to conduct same sex marriages and have them recognized by the state, yet these unions are not recognized because of what some refer to as the religious nature of the institution. Yet clearly this is government giving preference to one religious point of view over another.
There are two groups working together to defeat Amendment 2, Fairness for all Families ( www.fairnessforallfamilies.org) and Florida Red and Blue (www.sayno2.com).
Regardless of the outcome of the Amendment 2 initiative, the struggle for equality will continue. In Gainesville a group of individuals have proposed an amendment to the city charter to appear on the March 24 ballot that would repeal all anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, surrender to the state home rule authority to set anti-discrimination policy, and perhaps curtail current protections for classes such and race, sex and religion as well. A political committee, Equality is Gainesville's Business (email: , web: EqualityGainesville.com), has been formed to fight this attempt to legalize discrimination in Gainesville.
Craig Lowe is a Gainesville City Commissioner.
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