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Gay-marriage ban will be on ballot

BY GARY FINEOUT, gfineout@miamiherald.com

Florida voters, who have been asked in the past eight years to approve smaller class sizes, ban smoking in restaurants and allow slot machines in South Florida, will decide in the fall of 2008 whether to put Florida's ban on same-sex marriage in the state Constitution.

The hot-button issue appears likely to spark an emotional debate from both sides and could likely prompt increased voter turnout during a year when Florida will once again become a battleground state in the presidential election.

But unlike past years, the 2008 ballot will not be crowded with constitutional amendments promoted by special interest groups. New ballot deadlines, as well as the new requirement that all amendments be approved by 60 percent of voters, have contracted the number of ballot initiatives that will be sent to voters.

These tough new burdens could prove fatal to House Speaker Marco Rubio's latest effort to get a property tax amendment on the 2008 ballot. Rubio is backing a citizen-sponsored amendment to cap property taxes, but to make the ballot organizers must turn in more than 611,000 valid voter signatures from across the state by Feb. 1.

Two other major ballot initiatives are racing to meet the February deadline. One is Florida Hometown Democracy, an effort to give voters more say in approving development, while the other is Floridians for Smarter Growth, a business-backed group that is sponsoring a rival amendment to the Hometown Democracy effort.

Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican working to get signatures for the property tax amendment, contended that there are enough people angry at their property tax bills that organizers can meet the deadline.

''There is a property tax revolt going on in Florida. People are craving to sign the petition,'' he said.

But a University of Florida professor who studies ballot initiatives said it is ironic that politicians like Rubio and business-backed groups like Floridians for Smarter Growth are struggling to meet deadlines that were put in place by the GOP-controlled Legislature at the urging of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

''It's been an effort at limiting liberal ballot efforts, yet now these others are facing the same regulations of the initiative process,'' said Dan Smith, an associate professor of political science.

Organizers of Florida4Marriage.Org began gathering signatures for a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage in early 2005 and initially were aiming to get on the 2006 ballot, but did not get enough signatures to declare victory until this week.

Hometown Democracy supporters began their drive in 2005 as well, but so far have only gotten 440,000 signatures verified.

Lesley Blackner, a West Palm Beach attorney and chairman of the effort, says her group has turned in many more signatures but there has been a delay in reporting those results to the state. An attorney for the group raised questions this week to the Department of State about the discrepancy.

''It's been a nightmare,'' Blackner said.

``We want to get it over with.''

Meanwhile, Floridians for Smarter Growth has already ramped up its efforts to get a rival growth management amendment on the ballot.

Michael Caputo, a spokesman for the group, said the organization is ''on pace'' to get the signatures it needs by the end of January.


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Don't use marriage amendment to trample rights of gays

Steven Vest ("Marriage a foundation that should not be diluted," Dec. 3) takes the argument that marriage is a sacred institution that has changed little in thousands of years.

Let's cut to the bone. I had no idea that my marriage, my commitment to my partner of eight years, would destroy America and all it stands for, like freedom, tolerance and civil rights for all.

That said, I suggest the following laws be passed by the Republicans, their Christian right supporters and endorsed by the Republican presidential frontrunners:
1. Pass a constitutional amendment banning divorce because more than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. This would protect marriage's sacred status far more than my gay marriage ever will.

2. Pass laws mandating prison terms for all convicted of adultery. Adultery affects more marriages, even those of our religious and political leaders, than my gay marriage ever will.

3. Pass laws mandating prison terms for all women and men who have children outside of wedlock. This affects society far more than my gay marriage ever will.

4. Pass a law that those with children must pay higher taxes for public schools and exempt all gays who cannot get married or adopt from paying taxes to educate others.

A person's or a group's constitutional rights must never be up for public debate.

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