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Pro-gay Know Thy
Neighbor campaign comes to Florida

Pro-gay Know Thy
Neighbor campaign comes to Florida

Knowthyneighbor

After finding success and exposing fraud in Massachusetts, the Know Thy Neighbor campaign will publish the names of those who signed a Florida petition to ban same-sex marriage.

Hoping to generate the same kind of publicity and change enjoyed by the Know Thy Neighbor campaign in Massachusetts, which published on a Web site the names of everyone who signed a petition for a proposed same-sex marriage ban, a church in Florida is launching Know Thy Neighbor Florida on Monday.

"When KnowThyNeighbor.org was launched in Massachusetts last year, it resulted in numerous reports of alleged fraud," said John Schumpert, a founding member of Christ Church of Peace, a nondenominational congregation in Jacksonville, which is launching the Florida campaign. "While we are not saying that is the case here in Florida, we do believe the only real way to check for possible fraud is to give all Floridians easy and meaningful access to view this public information."

By a February 1 deadline, the antigay group Florida4Marriage.org turned in only 455,363 of the required 611,009 signatures needed to put the amendment before voters in November. Now the group is vowing to get the amendment on the 2008 Florida ballot.

Organizers of Know Thy Neighbor Florida hope that those who find familiar names on the lists of petition signers on the church's Web site will then take the opportunity to initiate an open and meaningful conversation with that person about how this discriminatory amendment would affect their life and, in many cases, the lives of their children. "I was excited from the first moment that the idea was presented to me for our church to sponsor Know Thy Neighbor Florida," said the Reverend Gary DeBusk, pastor of Christ Church of Peace. "A portion of our church's vision statement reads, 'We will be...a tool for social change.' And what better way is there to advocate for change than to support equal rights for all people."

Unlike the Know Thy Neighbor campaign in Massachusetts, where signatures for a 2008 ballot initiative were placed on an independent Web site, the use of a church site in Florida offers an opportunity to show people that not all churches are antigay. "As the February 1 deadline for signed petitions was approaching [in Florida], Christ Church of Peace received daily e-mails, faxes, and phone calls urging us to gather signatures at worship services and church functions," DeBusk said. "Now, of course, those who contacted us did not know that Christ Church of Peace is primarily made up of the very people that they are discriminating against. All that they knew was that we were on a list of churches."

Unfortunately, DeBusk continued, "a large percentage of their base is from churches. I find it sad that churches, in the name of God and Jesus the Christ, will promote discrimination and marginalization of people and through peer pressure garner the signatures of their congregants. But, of course, it was also many of these same churches that opposed black civil rights."

Names published by Know Thy Neighbor Florida can be viewed at www.christchurchofpeace.org. (The Advocate)

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