Our sensible “live and let live" Republican governor has done it again, governing from the middle rather than allowing himself to be dragged into the ideological extremes of his party. Gov. Charlie Crist is telling those who are intent on pushing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that he isn't interested in their cause. He has the serious business of the state to attend to.
Florida is facing skyrocketing property insurance costs, a housing market meltdown, reduced state revenues and educational challenges as far as one can see. These are issues commanding the time and attention of the governor and the public. A mean-spirited constitutional amendment that essentially repeats what is in state law is about the last thing this state needs. A campaign to ban same-sex marriage will only serve to polarize Floridians, distracting the state from the serious challenges ahead.
The so-called Florida Marriage Protection Amendment is ill-advised beyond the intolerance it communicates to gay and lesbian Floridians. The language does not just outlaw same-sex marriage; it prevents the recognition of any “substantial equivalent" to marriage as well, meaning civil unions and possibly domestic partnerships.
Under the amendment, Florida's cities and counties that maintain domestic partnership registries may have to shut them down, with those couples possibly losing health and other partner benefits. The Florida Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research says that terminating these registries could mean additional costs to county-run hospitals when patients no longer enjoy the insurance coverage once provided by their domestic partners.
Registered partners also typically have rights to visit each other in the hospital and make health care decisions for one another. Elderly heterosexual couples could be particularly impacted if they aren't married in order to protect their Social Security payments.
Supporters of the amendment claim to have enough valid signatures for it to get on the November ballot. Passage would require at least 60 percent of total votes cast.
Yet, since 2004, when anti-same-sex marriage fervor gripped this nation and initiatives passed in 11 states, opinion polls indicate that the public cares little about the issue relative to other national concerns such as the Iraq war and health care. Maybe the governor's refusal to play along will marginalize the demagogues. And maybe the governor's leadership will encourage Floridians to follow their better instincts and grant their fellow citizens the freedom to “live and let live."