By BILL COTTERELL, Tallahassee Democrat
The main sponsor of a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage said Wednesday all "aberrant forms of marriage" might become legal unless Florida voters adopt his proposal at the polls next November.
But the former head of the National Organization for Women argued that the state already has laws recognizing only heterosexual unions — and warned that the pending change would jeopardize rights of tens of thousands of unmarried couples, gay and straight.
John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, and Miami attorney Patricia Ireland, representing anti-amendment group Florida Red and Blue, debated Amendment 2 at a luncheon of the Capital Tiger Bay Club. Stemberger's Florida4Marriage.org group succeeded Feb. 1 in getting more than 600,000 voter signatures to qualify the gay-marriage ban for a statewide referendum.
"This is not the end game. There are many people who want to bring their aberrant forms of marriage to the table, and once you open the door, there's really no end to it," he said. "If marriage means anything, then marriage means nothing."
Stemberger said "logic, biology, tradition and common sense" dictate that marriage is not for homosexuals.
He further cited law-review articles and statements by proponents of polygamy and group marriage who claim there is no legal reason to limit marriage to one man and one woman.
"These are not crazies," he said. "These folks are where homosexual activists were 25 years ago. The problem is, when you unlock that door, there's really no end to the argument of where we're going to define marriage."
Ireland noted that Stemberger's amendment bans any "other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof." Ireland said no one knows what "substantial equivalent" means.
"We do know that if Amendment 2 passes, someone is going to be down the next day at the courthouse, filing a lawsuit saying domestic-partner benefits are treating people who receive them as if they were married, in terms of sharing their health care, or retirement benefits or making medical decisions," she said.
After the hour-long debate, a straw ballot of the audience indicated 45 listeners opposed to putting the gay-marriage ban in the constitution, 12 favored it and two checked "could go either way" on the issue.