In Florida, one can vote to change the Constitution every two years. It takes approximately 600,000 signatures to get a proposed change on the ballot, a figure that Florida4Marriage.org is striving for even now. They missed the deadline for the 2006 ballot, turning in only 455,000 signatures. They vow to have the required number by 2008. The amendment in question (PDF) would rule out gay marriage or anything similar, and would probably eliminate existing domestic partnership laws already in place. As these petitions seem to have become a semi-mandatory part of church services throughout the state, they could very well reach their goal. Now you know the stakes.
An interesting thing about such petitions; unlike a secret ballot, these are public record. Taking advantage of this, the gay affirming, non-denominational Christ Church of Peace in Jacksonville recently posted a searchable list of the names and addresses of all 455,000 people who have signed the petition so far. They did this in association with KnowThyNeighbor.org, which appears to be dedicated to doing this throughout the nation. They ask for local groups to sponsor the website and request the information from their state election officials. They say the main purpose is to open a dialog, but also to expose fraud.
While even the Florida Secretary of State assured Christ Church of Peace that posting this information is lawful, it has still caused quite a stir.
“It’s a gross invasion of people’s privacy,” said John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council, an offshoot of James Dobson’s national Christian conservative group Focus on the Family.
Stemberger argued that, if Christian conservatives published the names and addresses of gay-rights activists, they would likely be condemned as hatemongers.
“A lot of people would be outraged and say it’s a hateful, un-Christian gesture,” he said.
Obviously there are some important differences here. Tax-paying Florida residents are signing public documents encouraging the denial of rights to other tax-paying Florida residents. Gay rights advocates in general are simply using their First Amendment rights to make an argument for equality. If they were to sign a petition in favor of a ballot initiative, their information would also be public record. We are talking about the proverbial “apples vs. oranges.”
Though uncertain at first about the entire idea, I entered several names into the search. I found a friend of 20+ years and his wife, another friend of fewer years, and my own sister, her husband and their daughter. My sister, who helped me through the rough ending of a five year relationship, and who even prayed for that relationship at the time. When I first discovered these names, I felt a little sick, then disillusioned, and now a little angry. I haven’t decided on the dialog yet but there will probably be some of that, too.
What do you think about this? Do you see it prompting a dialog among friends and family? Is it fair? How else would we know to have such discussions if those in our lives don’t share their views and actions with us?