By Wayne Besen
One thing we Floridians loathe is being upstaged by California — that other bastion of sun and fun. We have worked hard to outdo them. For example, we countered their Disney Land with Disney World — a version of Mickey on steroids. Both states grow oranges — but we one-upped them by making the orange our state fruit. Still, California seems to get all the love with its glamorous movie stars who cruise in their fancy convertibles, enjoying humidity and mosquito free evenings.
In 2008, Florida was poised to become the center of the gay activism universe after the right wing placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that would prohibit same-sex marriage and civil unions.
I attended the initial meeting of Florida Red & Blue, the organization that was created to fight the Amendment. It took place inside the luxurious condo of a storied political operative. Seated in a circle, some of the most powerful and well-connected people — Democrats, republicans, gay and straight – strategized on how to win. Several of the major gay organizations and foundations announced they were onboard for this epic battle. An Equality Florida led coalition, Fairness for All Families, was also created to organize at the grassroots level.
All eyes were on Florida — until the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’ ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This was a monumental victory and the cause of mass celebration across America. While marriage in little ole Massachusetts was an appetizer, this was the four-course meal at the best restaurant in town.
The decision gave birth to countless news stories and endless chatter on the blogs. Unlike Massachusetts, there are no residency requirements for gay couples to marry in the Golden State. This led to New York Gov. David Paterson directing state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states and countries where they are legal.
Unfortunately, California was back in the news this week because the initiative to ban same-sex marriage received enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. So far, California polls have split on which side will win. A Los Angles Times survey suggested that the anti-gay amendment would narrowly pass. However, a few days later the Sacramento Bee released a field poll showing the amendment would fail 51 to 42 percent. This is clearly going to be a multi-million dollar nasty brawl that will capture the nation’ attention.
While California is back in the spotlight, we can’t let it eclipse what is happening in Florida. The right wing is gearing up to launch a huge campaign to win here. Indeed, Focus on the Family is hosting its ex-gay road show, Love Won Out, this week in Orlando. The group has placed billboards in the city and brazenly scheduled the event the same week as Gay Days at Disney — to receive maximum exposure. The conference will be fertile ground to recruit volunteers to work on passing the Amendment. My organization, TruthWinsOut.org, will join local advocates at a media conference to help counter the ex-gay symposium and its political implications.
The Florida measure is clearly a cynical ploy to get conservatives to the polls in a key election year — when Republicans are showing weakness in the south, losing special congressional elections in once “safe seats” in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The good news is, it will take 60 percent of the vote to amend the Florida constitution — increasing the likelihood that this amendment will fail. However, this means we can’t allow California to be a distraction. It is crucial that we keep one eye on Hollywood California, and the other on Hollywood, Florida. An affirmative win for marriage in California, combined with turning back a negative amendment in Florida, will take the air out of this issue nationally.
It would be a Godsend if we surfed to victory in California. But we also can’t get bogged down in the notorious Florida political swamp that led to the failed presidency of George W. Bush. The west coast wonder will once again be the leading man, but we must ensure the Election Day production isn’t spoiled because we forgot about the supporting cast in the Sunshine State.