Monday, May 12, 2008

Forearmed

Defeating the odious Amendment 2 — the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage here in Florida — won’t be easy, but that provides people with the incentive to get together and learn how to do whatever it takes stop it.

Get out. Organize. Care.

Strengthened by controversy over a proposition that could glue a gay marriage ban into the Florida constitution, community activists put on a workshop Sunday about the importance of getting involved.

The weekend’s two-day training session, which attracted dozens of people to the Courtyard by Marriott on Cypress Creek Road, was run by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization. The program was part of a national event to help encourage volunteers to elect candidates the organization considers to be fair-minded, and defeat discriminatory ballot measures.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization is running “Camp Equality” in 13 cities over the next few months; Fort Lauderdale was the first.

Attendees were encouraged to take up a cause or a candidate, learn how to recruit — and keep — volunteers, and make a strong case that should carry over to the ballot. Don’t pounce, they were taught, and always write a thank-you note. “We have to persuade them,” Sean Gagen, a trainer, implored the audience. “We know they’re going to vote, we have to make sure they’re voting our way. And we have to talk to people who always vote.”

Of particular concern is Amendment 2 on the November ballot, which would place Florida’s ban against gay marriage into the state constitution. Social conservatives support the measure that opponents say threatens to unravel health and retirement benefits for unmarried couples, straight and gay, by blocking civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Silvia Salvadore, 59, a retired teacher from Miami, said she was troubled by Amendment 2 because she considers it stripping people of their civil rights. A Republican, she said she wants “to sell my Republican friends on the issues I’m talking about.”

Amendment 2 is both redundant — gay marriage is already illegal in Florida — and it will create havoc for a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t consider themselves gay or second-class citizens in the eyes of the Religious Reich. For example, an elderly couple who live together without being married because it’s cheaper for two to live in one place and pool their resources such as Social Security and pensions.

The rationale behind the amendment, according to its backers, is to guarantee that even if the United States Supreme Court at some future date decided that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional on the basis of equal protection, the state of Florida would still be able to ban the practice because it’s in the state constitution. This is roughly the equivalent of a state voting in an amendment in 1960 that would ban interracial marriage just in case the Supreme Court decided later on — as it did in 1967 — to overturn the miscegenation laws. In other words, the backers of this Hate Amendment (HT to KQ) are afraid that the justices of the United States Supreme Court would find that the LGBT community really is entitled to the full and equal rights of every other citizen of the United States. How dare they. (Given the makeup of the current court, this seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. Yet another reason to vote for a Democrat.)

As Michael Calderin, a state house candidate notes, this amendment is an exercise in wrong-headed lawmaking.

Creating laws should be about priorities. How would you prioritize something that’s redundant, intrusive, and expensive?