Voters should defeat Amendment 2 for a lot of reasons, but the most important one for Floridians who are uncomfortable with the concept of gay marriage is that the amendment has the potential to harm all sorts of other families, especially senior citizens. Despite what the ads for the amendment claim, the broad language of was chosen purposely by its backers to go beyond gay marriage and bar civil unions, domestic partnerships and any other legal arrangement that appears to resemble marriage. Amendment 2 is an attempt to inject a strictly theological definition of family into the state Constitution. Voters should have none of it.
Same-sex marriage is already illegal in the state by statute. And Florida will not recognize gay marriages that are performed in other states. There is no compelling reason for a redundant constitutional amendment. Still, Amendment 2's backers argue that putting a ban in the Constitution is an insurance policy against judges one day declaring state law invalid.
If that were the sole intent of Amendment 2, its backers would have written the language narrowly. They didn't. The amendment defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, and says that no other union "that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof" is valid or may be recognized.
There is every reason to believe that this "substantial equivalent" language will be interpreted to ban state recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships. Attorneys general in states such as Michigan, Nebraska and others where similar language has been adopted have ruled that the domestic partners of public employees as well as their children should be denied health insurance.
The Michigan Supreme Court recently agreed with this interpretation, ruling that government agencies could not constitutionally provide benefits to the partners of gay employees.
In Florida, senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to Amendment 2's unintended consequences. It is not uncommon for older Floridians to sign up as domestic partners or enter into legal arrangements with loved ones to ensure they can make medical and financial decisions for each other. Some choose not to remarry because it would adversely affect their Social Security or pension benefits. Amendment 2 would put these arrangements at risk.
Florida has more than 400,000 unmarried-partner households and nearly 90 percent of those are heterosexual couples. Many are elderly. As retired Lutheran pastor John Hayner of Clearwater told USA Today: "It should not be called the 'marriage protection act' but the 'domestic partners benefits exclusion act.' "
Amendment 2 would be a serious step backward for Florida and one that would be very hard to erase.