State pro-gay marriage groups race to get enough signatures by February 2008

The debate on same-sex unions and gay marriage might be a hot topic at Florida A&M University.

The Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, which states marriage in Florida is legal only between one man and one woman, will not be up for public vote until November 2008.

Supporters of the amendment, many of whom are members of organizations like Florida4Marriage, must collect approximately 600,000 valid petition signatures by February 2008 for the amendment to go on the ballot 10 months later.

According to, they are “currently about 50,000 signatures short of the required total number of 611,009 to place the FMPA on the 2008 ballot” as of Aug. 1.

Petition signatures in Florida are valid for four years, and Florida4Marriage, which was founded in February 2005, has 455,363 signatures as of February.

As a counter measure, has posted the names and addresses of over 450,000 Florida residents who have signed Florida4Marriage’s petitions in favor of the amendment.

The Web site allows users to search signers’ names by first name, last name, county of residency or street address. Posting the names and addresses online is legal because the information is public record.

KnowThyNeighbor, a Massachusetts-based group, “has expanded its activities to Florida,” according to a recent press release. The organization is partnering with a Jacksonville church for its Florida operations.

The statewide battle over gay marriage began last year when the gay marriage debate became a hot topic nationwide and Florida4Marriage began collecting signatures.

Florida4Marriage had until Feb. 1 to collect the 600,000 signatures, but they fell short by about 150,000.

State and national attention was focused on the group’s efforts, and pro-gay marriage organizations like Equality Florida are happy.

“It’s just proof that there aren’t as many intolerant people in this state as they thought,” Equality Florida political operative Jim Van Riper said. “There’s going to be a battle from now on.”

Florida4Marriage Chairman John Stemberger said that, given the group’s small amount of resources, he valued the face-to-face time the organization had with people who supported his cause.

Florida4Marriages’ main goal is to pass the amendment, he said.

“Marriage is a social, religious, human and legal institution,” he said. “You cannot build a civilization without natural marriage.”

The Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church, which is of a worldwide denomination based off of Protestantism, has been recognizing same-sex couples for over 38 years, said its pastor, Paul Anway.

“I don’t believe that all churches should be forced into recognizing relationships they don’t want to recognize,” he said.

Andrew Case, 24, a junior psychology student from Kingston, Jamaica, is the director of the Men’s Ministry in the FAMU Baptist Collegiate Ministry.

“We’re taught to hate the sin and not the sinner,” he said. “Everybody sins. Homosexuality is just one more sin.”

The Rev. Lawrence Barriner has served at the Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry Center at FAMU since 1994. He doesn’t agree that hating the sin and not the sinner works.

“That’s impossible,” he said. “If you could detach the two, you’d have a diluted debate.” Barriner believes only God can separate the sin from a sinner.

“Homosexuality has been around since Old Testament times,” he said. “It’s either dealt with very harshly (in the church) or its glossed over. No matter what an individual does, there’s a sacred worth to all human life,” he said.

Barriner has talked with some homosexuals on campus who are not openly gay, and he said he treats them no differently from any other student.

“I try to create an atmosphere to where they can talk to me,” he said. “I’m not going to change you. It’s hard enough to change me.”