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Backers kick off campaign for gay marriage amendment

Assistant Pastor Mel Harris greets Lester and Sara Tillis after a news conference at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church. At left is senior Pastor W. James Favorite. The group was at the Tampa church to show support of Amendment 2 and to express opposition to gay marriage. The Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage held news conferences across the state.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Assistant Pastor Mel Harris greets Lester and Sara Tillis after a news conference at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church. At left is senior Pastor W. James Favorite. The group was at the Tampa church to show support of Amendment 2 and to express opposition to gay marriage. The Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage held news conferences across the state.

TAMPA — The group backing a state constitutional amendment to limit marriage only to straight couples kicked off its publicity campaign Thursday with a group of Christian senior citizens.

The Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage held several news conferences across the state heralding the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, including one at Beulah Baptist Church in Tampa.

While Florida has a state law banning same-sex marriage, supporters of the proposed law, known as Amendment 2, want the ban embedded in the Constitution and have collected enough signatures to take the proposal to voters on Nov. 4.

About 15 seniors and members of the clergy gathered at the Tampa church and said they wanted to protect a sacred institution they believe God created. They called marriage the cornerstone of society, which they think is losing family values.

They also wanted to shoot down an argument they've heard from Amendment 2 opponents, including the group Florida Red & Blue: that the amendment would take away benefits from widowed seniors who share housing because of fixed incomes.

But a state act cannot take away federal Social Security benefits, said Terry Kemple, who heads the amendment's Hillsborough County campaign.

"It simply defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman, which is the best for protecting children," said Sara Tillis, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church who has been married since 1955.

The Rev. Brant Copeland, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee and an advisory board member to Florida Red & Blue, countered supporters by saying similar laws in other states have affected straight, unmarried couples at hospitals. He stood by his group's claim that domestic partner benefits could be in jeopardy.

"I think that the impact of this amendment could be very detrimental to people who are not married, both senior citizens and those in currently legally recognized relationships," Copeland said. "I'm much more concerned about the impact on the most vulnerable in our state by the current cuts our Legislature is enacting than I am an amendment that is trying to preserve a relationship already protected in law."

Supporters of Amendment 2 also unveiled a new logo Thursday — "Yes On 2" — and Web site, yes2marriage.org.

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3368.

Backers kick off campaign for gay marriage amendment 04/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 9:18am]

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