News (USA)

Marriage equality advocates hope to repeal Florida’s ban on gay marriage

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A group that supports same-sex marriage in Florida said Wednesday that it isn’t confident an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling will nullify the state’s gay marriage ban and is starting a public opinion campaign while waiting for the court to decide.

The idea is to build public support for gay marriage in Florida and eventually overturn the state’s ban regardless of the Supreme Court’s rulings on a similar ban in California and separately the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“We think it’s going to be a wake-up call for a lot of people who are thinking that the Supreme Court is going to rule and the next day they can finally get married,” said Equality Florida executive Nadine Smith.

If the Supreme Court ruling isn’t sweeping enough to nullify Florida’s ban, the group will have a challenge stripping the same-sex marriage ban from the state constitution. Florida voters approved the amendment in 2008 by a vote of 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent.

It would take 60 percent of the state’s voters to repeal the amendment. And to even get on the ballot it would require either action by the Legislature — which won’t happen while both chambers are nearly two-thirds Republican — or a petition drive that would require the signatures of 683,149 registered voters.

Smith said she believes a majority of Floridians now support same-sex marriage.

“All of us know people who have gone from a place of staunch opposition to actual support and we’re seeing more and more of that,” Smith said. Still, the 60 percent threshold is a concern.

The group plans to use rallies, T-shirts, bumper stickers and celebrities and elected officials who do support same-sex marriage to garner support for the idea.

They’re calling the effort “Get Engaged.”

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Among those who have been converted is former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who signed the petition to put the gay-marriage ban on the ballot and who said he later voted for the ban. Now a Democrat and considering another run for governor, Crist says he supports same-sex marriage.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is staying out of the argument, however. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz noted that voters put the ban in the constitution before he was governor and that he is focused on other issues.

The man who led the petition drive to put the gay marriage ban on the ballot said he doesn’t think the Equality Florida effort will succeed.

“I’m not aware that they have any significant money or resources,” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council. “I don’t see this as a serious legal threat. The people of Florida have spoken.”

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