Anti-Gay Petition Runs into Trouble in Florida

After the high-stakes interrupted recount in the 2000 presidential election and the computer error that may have thrown a congressional race in 2006, the state of Florida has become synonymous with electoral snafus. Now election officials are reporting problems with machines counting signatures for petitions, but this time the confusion may stymie efforts to place an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot in November.

Last month, the Religious Right was boasting that it had gathered more than enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot—in contrast to 2006, when an anti-gay petition fell short. But the campaign,, was apparently using faulty numbers, as it turns out that machines in at least one county had submitted duplicate signature reports. Now the effort is at least 22,000 signatures short, with just two weeks to go.

“We are in a state of constitutional emergency,” declared John Stemberger, who is leading the campaign. Backers of the anti-gay campaign called on pastors to mobilize their congregations in a last-minute push:

“Right now we are called as men and women of faith are often called to first pray and depend on our faith and then to come together and absolutely take this emergency sitiuation seriously,” [Bill Bunkley of the Florida Baptist Convention] said. He suggested those who support the amendment spend the next 7-10 days armed with petitions and share them at church, at school and anywhere they travel in the state, asking two questions: “Are you a registered voter? and “Have you signed the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment?”

Bunkley predicts that within the next seven days “if the sanctity of marriage is truly a top priority for men and women of faith” this state-wide deficit should be able to be made up.

“I call on all Florida Baptist pastors at their Wednesday night and Sunday services to have petitions available for anyone in attendance who would like to sign the Florida Marriage Amendment but who has not yet had an opportunity to do so,” Bunkley said. …

Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel for Orlando-based Liberty Counsel said he believes pastors and churches should be actively involved in the urgent movement to get signed petitions in.

“There is no restriction on pastors and churches, Staver told Baptist Press. What I would encourage pastors to do is to distribute a marriage petition to every single member in the congregation and set aside a few minutes to walk them through how to fill it out, and then have the ushers collect those and get them to by Federal Express. I would not simply have a table in the back, because you could have a several-thousand-member church and only obtain a few hundred signatures that way. We don’t have time to do that anymore.