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I'LL TAKE 'SILLY SOCIAL ISSUES' FOR $100, ALEX

Okay, so we won't be voting this year on whether to control growth in Florida in a different way.

But we will be voting on whether to put a ban on same-sex marriage into the state Constitution.

There you go! The Florida story in a nutshell.

The Hometown Democracy proposal - to put local voters in charge of major growth decisions - did not make this year's ballot. Maybe in 2010.

As for same-sex marriage, the group behind that amendment, Florida4Marriage.org, worked hard and qualified for the ballot at the wire.

Here is the text of the amendment:

Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

First of all, it should be noted that same-sex marriage already is illegal in Florida. The Legislature passed a "defense of marriage" law back in the 1990s. The question is whether to write the ban into the Constitution, too.

The part about "only one man and one woman" is clear enough. But the tricky part comes with the phrase, "the substantial equivalent thereof."

Does that mean that any kind of domestic-partner agreement or benefit would be illegal? Is this amendment an attempt to reverse what already has become commonplace and common sense in our society?

Absolutely not, says John Sternberger of Florida4Marriage.org. Marriage, he pointed out, is a "massive bundle" of legal rights, touching on something like more than 1,100 points of law. The phrase "substantial equivalent" is intended to mean any legal device that tries to convey the whole shebang, or something close to it.

As for benefits, rights or agreements between domestic partners, he argued, "All of these you can get with a good, durable power of attorney."

You can never predict how a court will rule. But when the Florida Supreme Court approved the wording of this amendment for the ballot in March 2006, it seemed to support Sternberger's position.

Opponents had argued that the marriage amendment was a Trojan horse that targeted not only marriage, but all rights and benefits. But the court rejected that argument.

Still, this will probably be the crux of the campaign against the amendment this year. It was the argument used in 2006 in Arizona, the only state to reject a same-sex marriage ban so far.

My own thinking is that civil marriage is just a legal contract, and it ought to be open to any two people who want it. It doesn't "threaten" my own marriage. Basically, it's none of my business.

But we are going to have the fight. It will be another silly social-issue diversion that both sides will use to whip up supporters. Too bad we're not debating Hometown Democracy instead.

- - -

So, am I promoting the Homer Sexual Agenda? Am I part of a Times plot to promote the baseball stadium, too? Will Charlie Crist's new love for gambling come back to bite him? Why not ask me to my face (or at least, to my keyboard) during today's live chat on TroxBlog?

I'll be taking reader comments and questions live from noon to 1 p.m. You'll find TroxBlog under the "Blogs" menu at www.tampabay.com.

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