www.ambiente.us NOVEMBER / NOVIEMBRE 2008
Some Big Wins, and a Really Big Loss
By Stephen Gaskill
First, the good news. Florida’s GLBT community made tremendous strides on November 4, despite some
high profile losses. Openly-gay candidates won countywide races in two counties, and one town regained its
Hillsborough County voters elected Kevin Beckner to the County Commission, ousting incumbent Brian
Blair. A 37-year-old financial planner and former police officer, Beckner won a convincing victory, defeating
Blair by 10 percentage points. The Hillsborough County Commission has a history of taking anti-GLBT
positions, and just a few years ago voted to bar the County from recognizing Gay Pride activities. (The
resulting flap helped catapult then-Commissioner Kathy Castor into Congress in 2006.) In endorsing
Beckner, the Tampa Tribune said of Blair, “He chose to focus on trivial issues and inflame cultural wars over
religion and sexuality…(he) used his commission pulpit to denigrate gays and non-Christians.” Elected
countywide, Beckner brings a much needed change in tone to Hillsborough County.
Monroe County voters overwhelmingly elected Heather Carruthers to an open seat on the County
Commission. Carruthers trounced architect Carlos Rojas by more than 30 percentage points in a
countywide election. Owner of Pearl’s, a popular women’s guesthouse in Key West, Carruthers is an
instrumental member of Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe (FIRM), which helped lower windstorm insurance
rates in the Keys.
In Wilton Manors, the gay mecca that abuts the gay mecca of Fort Lauderdale, longtime commissioner Gary
Resnick was elected mayor. Resnick defeated the incumbent, Scott Newton, whose gay-friendly reputation
was marred among Broward County’s GLBT leaders when he ran a nasty and some say homophobic
campaign against Mark LaFontaine when both were competing in the August primary for a State Legislature
seat. Both were defeated by a third candidate, which allowed Newton to run for the mayoral post in the
Wilton Manors voters also elected Justin Flippen and Tom Green to the Commission, meaning three of the
five seats in that town are held by openly-gay representatives. When Resnick becomes mayor his
Commission seat will open, and potential candidates are lining up to run. Look for more GLBT candidates
and a possible return attempt by Newton.
Now for the bad news. Florida voters passed Amendment 2, the so-called “gay marriage ban” which in
reality could strip away rights, benefits and protections from any unmarried couple in Florida, whether gay or
straight. Constitutional amendments in Florida require 60 percent of the vote to pass, and Amendment 2
earned 62 percent of the vote – a narrow win for the proponents, but a crushing blow to those of us who think
the Constitution should be used to expand rights, not take them away.
Amendment 2 purported to limit marriage to “one man and one woman,” but the ballot language included a
provision banning the “substantial equivalent” of marriage – something which has no definition in the law.
John Stemberger of Florida4Marriage, the initiative’s sponsor, said the amendment was necessary to keep
infamous “activist judges” from changing the definition of marriage, but it will be precisely one of those
judges that will rule on what the “substantial equivalent” of marriage actually means when a legal challenge
Stemberger claimed throughout the campaign that his organization has no intention of challenging domestic
partner benefits. However, his allies have a track record of making the same claims during a campaign and
disregarding those promises once the amendment is on the books – as public employees in Michigan found
out. They lost health benefits because of a similarly-worded amendment in that state.
Howard Simon, Florida ACLU executive director, is skeptical of Stemberger’s claims, yet admits that
opponents of Amendment 2 must remain in a defensive posture. Until benefits are challenged, the
implications of its language remain a mystery. Should benefits be pulled because of Amendment 2, the
ACLU will become their main defender. With two fulltime attorneys focused on GLBT issues in Florida, from
marriage to adoption, the ACLU is among the GLBT community’s strongest allies in protecting and
expanding our rights.
Florida made history on Election Day 2008, both good and bad. Here’s hoping our community’s newly
elected leaders do us proud -- and along the way help raise awareness and educate our fellow Floridians
that regardless of exclusionary and discriminatory measures, we are ALL equal under the laws of the land.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Gaskill is a senior communications strategist and political consultant with more
than 20 years of experience designing and implementing media outreach programs for
political candidates, government agencies, advocacy groups, major corporations,
trade associations and ad hoc coalitions.
Based in South Florida after a long career in Washington DC, Stephen is an independent
consultant with a variety of client interests, and has served as national spokesperson on
a wide range of issues and causes. He is a veteran of Democratic politics, and held
senior positions in the Clinton-Gore, Gore-Lieberman and Kerry-Edwards campaigns.
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