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Florida
justices question challenge to same-sex marriage
amendment

Florida
justices question challenge to same-sex marriage
amendment

Florida supreme court justices had difficulty during oral arguments Wednesday seeing why a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage should be kept off the 2008 ballot. The justices will decide at a later date whether the proposal meets the constitutional requirements that citizen initiatives cannot cover more than one subject and that ballot summaries must be clear and unambiguous. Mathew Staver said he was pleased after arguing for the proposal on behalf of its sponsor, Florida4marriage.org. "I think the justices saw directly to the heart of the issue," said Staver, president and general counsel for Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group that purports to advocate for religious freedom and traditional family values. "This language clearly meets the single-subject" requirement, he said. The amendment, endorsed by such organizations as the Christian Coalition of Florida and the Southern Baptist Convention, failed to garner the 611,000 signatures by the February 1 deadline needed to get on the ballot this year. Sponsors are now shooting for 2008. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Leslie Cooper argued that the proposal violates the single-subject requirement because it covers two subjects: the status and protection of marriage. Voters may support how the amendment affects one but not the other, she told the high court. Chief Justice Barbara Pariente responded that it appeared both involve one subject, relationships between two people. "I'm having trouble seeing where the single-subject violation is despite your excellent advocacy," Pariente told Cooper. Cooper represented the ACLU, six lesbian and gay couples, Equality Florida, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. "We hope that the justices will see that this amendment would not just ban marriage but would ban civil unions and potentially other protections for same-sex couples," she said. The ballot summary says it limits marriage to "one man and one woman" and prohibits any "other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof." Cooper argued that "substantial equivalent" is unclear, but Justice Raoul Cantero said the meaning of that phrase will be open to challenge if the amendment should pass. "That doesn't mean it shouldn't go on the ballot," Cantero said. The justices also pointed out that "substantial equivalent" is used in the amendment itself as well as the ballot summary. "If constitutional amendments were clear and statutes were clear, this court would have a much lower caseload," Pariente said. She then noted Staver made a substantial concession about the amendment's intent during his argument that courts later can rely upon in interpreting its meaning. "It does not prohibit either a local government or the state government from giving a bundle of rights to unmarried people," Staver said. The amendment mimic's Florida's existing Defense of Marriage Act, which already bans same-sex marriages. Staver said courts might be able to strike down the law based on existing provisions in the Florida constitution unless it is amended. (AP)

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