A ban on marriages among gays and lesbians won overwhelming approval from the state House on Wednesday, moving Florida closer to affirming the same federal law passed last year.
"The people of the state of Florida like the institution of marriage just the way it is," said Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, the measure's sponsor. "The public policy in the state of Florida is, has been, and will always be that marriage is the legal union of one man and one woman."
The proposal passed overwhelmingly, 97-19, but only after a heated debate over the measure's moral and legal implications. An identical measure, sponsored by Sen. John Grant, R-Tampa, is expected to pass in the Senate. Gov. Lawton Chiles said Wednesday that he hasn't yet taken a position on the matter.
Supporters say the measure is needed in case the Hawaii Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling that would allow same-sex marriages. Some fear that gays and lesbians would get married in Hawaii and then move to Florida. The U.S. Constitution requires states to recognize marriages performed in other states.
"The economic impact of same-sex marriages, the fiscal impact, is unmeasurable," Byrd said. "We don't need it."
Last year, President Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which affirms that a marriage can happen only between a man and a woman.
In Florida, however, opponents have worked to keep the state from following Congress' lead.
In committee, Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, tried to add a provision that would allow women to sue their adulterous husbands for compensatory damages. That failed, but Frankel did not give up. This week, she tried unsuccessfully to get the full House to approve a change that would forbid adulterous couples from marrying after they divorce their previous spouses.
"The issue is homosexuality and our homophobia about it," said Rep. Suzanne Jacobs, D-Delray Beach. "That's why this bill is on the fast track."
Opponents said the proposal would violate the U.S. Constitution, which requires states to put "full faith and credit" in contracts and documents of other states.
"Maybe it's not the most politically correct thing to do, maybe it's not the most politically popular thing to do, but I'm going to vote to uphold the Constitution," said Rep. Steven Geller, D-Pembroke Pines.
Others questioned how the proposal fits House Speaker Daniel Webster's requirements for less government and more personal responsibility.
Some compared the bill to old laws that prohibited blacks and whites from marrying each other.
"It sets up an all-too familiar pattern of discrimination," said Rep. Mandy Dawson-White, D-Fort Lauderdale. "We worked all too hard in the 1960s to close that door. This would reopen it."
In the end, however, the measure proved too popular.
"There's a document far greater than the Constitution of the United States that I live by," said Rep. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami. "That document does not say in it anywhere that a man and a man can have a baby, and a woman and a woman can have a baby."