Full text of Florida’s upcoming Amendment 2:

Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

“or the substantial equivalent thereof”

Amendment 2 erodes rights, protects no one

April 23, 2008


This pre-emptive attack against establishing civil unions in Florida is not well understood and needs to be made clear to voters. […] And in states where the similar loose language of “or the substantial equivalent thereof” has passed, civil unions and existing domestic partnership health insurance and other protections have been permanently blocked.


Further, unmarried couples could lose the right to visit each other in the hospital or make crucial emergency medical decisions on each other’s behalf. These are the serious consequences of enshrining the loose language of “substantial equivalent” in our constitution.

As I said in the comments:

I appreciate the elucidation of questioning the meaning of “or the substantial equivalent thereof.”

I know Stemberger and ilk are attempting to refute this, but really, the important thing is to continue asking what is meant by that, especially as far as civil union and domestic partnership benefits are concerned. Because even the designers of Amendment 2 can’t predict the future.

And as long as that question remains, the threat remains.

Florida4Marriage’s own website seems to concur with this assessment while attempting to state the opposite.

(You can view their video “Marriage Amendment Will Not Affect Domestic Partnerships” here at: Embedding disabled by request)

Transcript is as follows:

Anchor: Ok, I’ll offer that to Mr. Stemberger.

John Stemberger: First let me-I wan to respond to Derrick’s comments, um, Michigan, these other states he’s pointed to have different language. Ok, you can’t just look at states, you have to look at the specific language. And here in Florida, the specific language has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court. It mirrors the language of the current marriage laws on the books. And the substantial equivalent language just says hey, you know, even the professor agrees with me, and she’s a neutral person saying that these are not going to invalidate domestic partnerships. We catalogued every domestic partnership, there’s 21 of them, they grant-small bundle of benefits, like burial rights, the rights to visitation in hospital, the rights to visitation in prison, those kind of things, it’s about 6-9 rights, it doesn’t approximate the one thousand…

Anchor: Health benefits though, heath benefits is one of the sticking points of domestic partnerships though, isn’t it?

John Stemberger: Some County’s grant health benefits.

Anchor: Ok, so Cynthia, these other states, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan, where the ban has been passed, and it has been challenged — gay and straight domestic partnership benefits — that is a different scenario than what we’re looking at in Florida potentially?

Cythia Hawkins-Leon (Stetson College of Law): Well, I’m here to look more at how the amendment would – whether the amendment has been appropriately brought to the public. And my thought is that, as far as how the other states have treated it, their language is different, it’s not exactly the same, and also, to even bring this to the ballot, it has to involve only one issue, which it does, and that the ballot description has to be straightforward and not misleading…

Anchor: So let’s say it has been appropriately brought to the ballot, do you believe that it opens the door or not, to legal challenges to gay and straight domestic partnerships, as they sit right now?

Cythia Hawkins-Leon: In my, as reading this, the ballot summary, and the full text, which is a sentence, no, I do not. Because, as a family law professor, and that’s my specialty, a civil union, is expressly different, which we’re not talking about, is expressly different from marriage, it gives less benefits, and the domestic partnership gives even less benefits to the parties, than a civil union.

Anchor: So it’s not, so they’re saying it’s not the substantial equivalent of a marriage.

Derek Newton (Florida Red and Blue): Well the bottom line of that is, that’s going to be determined in court. I mean that’s – and that’s part of the problem with this amendment is, if it gets put in the constitution, you can time it with a stopwatch. A lot of people, and again, the legislature says the cost of litigation will definitely increase, to the state having to defend this if it gets in the constitution, because it will be challenged. And even though the language isn’t identical, you don’t have to look much farther than, like I said Michigan, or Ohio for example, where a similar amendment, again, not exactly the same, but a similar amendment has been used as a defense against domestic violence. Where somebody who had abused his live in girlfriend said you can’t recognize our relationship.

Cythia Hawkins-Leon: That’s outrageous.

Derek Newton: Well let me just…

So John Stemberger’s definition of “substantial equivalent” is essentially:

the substantial equivalent language just says hey, you know, even the professor agrees with me […] it’s about 6-9 rights, it doesn’t approximate the one thousand…

To which the “neutral professor” essentially concurs with him by saying:

Cythia Hawkins-Leon: a civil union […] gives less benefits, and the domestic partnership gives even less benefits to the parties, than a civil union.

I think Derek Newton of Florida Red and Blue sums it up best when he says that the bottom line is that it’s going to be determined in court.

Stemberger and this supposedly neutral family law professor frame the definition of “substantial” as being about a number, or an amount of specific benefits, as though the meaning of substantial is not about substance.

So the wording of “substantial equivalent” would seem to be anti-gay code speak for the real, life changing, and potentially life saving benefits that civil unions and domestic partnerships offer – such as health care and hospital visitation rights.

The “substantial” types of benefits typically conferred onto those who’s marriages are legally recognized.

It would then seem to me that a union that is “substantial” enough to be considered worthy of even ONE of these benefits, could EASILY be challenged if this measure passes, including private legal contracts, gay or not.

Or have I missed something?




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