Florida’s Social Conservatives Gear Up to Strengthen Families, Oppose Gambling, GLBT Rights

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: February 19, 2013 3:55 AM
Florida Catholic Conference, Florida Family Policy Council, Florida Baptist Convention Logos

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Florida's Catholic and evangelical social conservatives expect the GOP-heavy Florida Legislature to sympathize with their moral concerns as the 2013 session gears up, but they're not taking anything for granted as they prepare to lobby legislators on issues dear to them.

“I don’t anticipate anything too harmful happening in the area of social conservative causes,” Bill Bunkley, who represents the Florida Baptist Convention on the newly-formed Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (of which he is also president), tells Sunshine State News. “However, on the Senate side of things, the Legislature is clearly not as socially conservative as it has been in the past.”

By way of example, Bunkley points to Senate President Don Gatez’s appointment of “very liberal” Democrat Eleanor Sobel to chair the Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. The committee will consider a domestic partnership bill on Tuesday afternoon, one “likely to not see the light of day” but is a sign of the direction in which he thinks the Senate might be going, compared to previous years.

“Our primary focus this session is how can we strengthen the institution of marriage and family as a means to produce more social order and therefore less government interference and intervention,” John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, tells SSN. “When families and marriages break down, it increases the welfare state, it’s just not the best way to build society. That’s our overall premise.”

The social agenda of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops echoes that of the state’s more evangelically oriented organizations, though it tends to be a bit broader in scope. As the introduction to this year’s policy outline puts it, in addition to the protection of unborn life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom, the Conference “supports legislation which relieves the burden of the poor, aged, children in need, and disabled; contributes to the reform of the criminal justice system; assures the rights of parents in the education of their children; protects the environment for future generations; and addresses the needs of farm workers and immigrant families.”

What follows is an outline of the filed and forthcoming legislation the state’s social conservatives are keeping an eye on.


Each of the spokesmen interviewed for this piece reiterated their organizations’ longstanding opposition to the expansion of legal gambling in Florida, and on Monday Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, announced that one bill – likely, the only one dealing with gambling – to be introduced in the 2013 session will be one that expressly outlaws the estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Internet cafes that operate as sweepstakes parlors, skirting the state’s anti-gambling laws.

“We think that gambling is a vice,” Stemberger says. “There’s no social good that comes from it, there’s crime associated with it, and addiction, and suicides. There’s families and marriages that break up because of it, and we just don’t think Florida needs to expand it any more than it already is.”

Stemberger and Bunkley say their organizations will advocate that the Florida House’s two-year gambling review incorporate research on the potential social costs associated with the legalization of gambling, including increased rates of crime, addiction, and family breakdown -- though the Senate Gaming Committee has already said it's doing just that.

“We know from other states, for every dollar they take in gambling, there can be two to five dollars put out the back door with social costs, police protection, etc.,” Bunkley concurs. He’s proposing that the Legislature conduct research into how advertising for the Florida Lottery is directed (e.g., by way of billboards) and where Internet cafes are conducting their business, and to compare those findings with census records to see if low-income communities are being disproportionately targeted by public and private gaming interests.

Domestic Partnerships

“This has nothing to do with families,” Stemberger says of Sobel’s SB 196, which is titled “Families First.” “It’s a full-blown civil unions-gay marriage bill, an attempt to appropriate every right, under both federal and state law, that mirrors marriage in every way, in terms of children, finance, rights, responsibilities, duties, everything.“

He suggests the bill might even violate the Florida Constitution, a provision of which (approved by the vast majority of Florida’s voters in the 2008 general election) explicitly defines marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife” and provides that “no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

“Traditional values such as chastity, the sanctity of marriage and family, as well as the development of sound parent-child relationships, and the freedom of parents to rear their children in a healthy and moral climate are critical to a well-ordered society,” Michael Sheedy, director of public policy at the Catholic Conference, wrote Monday in a letter to Sobel. “All of these are under assault today and can be further threatened by legislation such as SB 196.”

Discrimination Against Gays

Stemberger expresses concern over HB 653 and SB 710 (“Prohibited Discrimination”), the “Competitive Workforce Act,” which prohibits private businesses from discriminating against their employees on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.”

“In other words, if a man decides to turn into a woman, whether by cross-dressing or through ‘sex change,' and wants to be your receptionist, and you the business owner believe that’s inappropriate, you can’t terminate or otherwise decline to hire that particular person,” Stemberger explains. “This would also apply to schools and private businesses where children are involved.”

New Handbook for Married Couples?

On background, social conservative sources tell SSN they are working to get a bill filed that would require courts to hand out a new “introduction to marriage” handbook to couples who are civilly married. Currently, new couples are given a booklet published by the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.

“That’s basically a book on how to get divorced,” according to one source. “Right on the front end of the marriage, we’re giving couples a way to undermine the foundation of their relationship. I think that’s really counterproductive. It sends a really bad message.”

The proposed bill, which hasn’t been filed yet, would contain information on “marriage education, how couples communicate, how they can order their finances, how to raise children, and how to resolve conflicts.” The source said about 10 states publish such a guide and distribute it to newlyweds.

Prison Reform

“I think that’s something youl’ll see moving this session,” sources tell SSN on background. “House leadership is checking out models from across the country that have had great success in rehabilitating people and returning them to the world as productive citizens.”

Sheedy tells SSN the Conference is working with the Legislature to come up with a solution for what to do with incarcerated juveniles who have received life-term prison sentences. A June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year determined that such punishments constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

Comments (16)

5:04PM FEB 25TH 2013
I am a Christian. I am also a lesbian. It makes me so sad that so many people are so afraid of LGBT community. John Stemberger was wrong when he said that the Families First bill had nothing to do with families. I know a lot of families that would have benefited from it.

I'm not trying to destroy anyone's marriage, and I would never want a pastor to be forced to violate his or her conscience by being forced to officiate at my wedding to another women (*nobody* wants that). But I would like to have the assurance that, should I be lucky enough to meet someone to spend the rest of my life with, we'd be able to visit each other in the hospital, and make child custody arrangements to protect our children. And I'd like the churches that want to perform same sex marriages to have the freedom to do so. This takes nothing from heterosexual people. I know that same sex marriage is banned in our state constitution. But domestic partnerships would have been a step towards fairness.

We'll keep trying.
3:16PM FEB 24TH 2013
I love how so called "christian" groups base their "morality" on bearing false witness against their neighbour and a total failure to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Rich Denmark
10:49AM FEB 19TH 2013
What a bunch of hate mired behind misinformed morals. Shame on you. I'm currently engaged and refuse to get married in a state that doesn't recognize equal rights as our national constitution states.

God did not leave it up to you to decide who is and is not equal. Man has never gotten that right and has always conceded after realizing the fear and hate they were spreading instead of a message of love and tolerance.

There is this guy who has written some pretty incredible stuff about how to treat your fellow humans. His name was Jesus. You may recognize his name as someone you use as a weapon or to hide behind or to fill your agenda and pockets.

Open your mind and your heart, the battle of morals is a big one and you are fighting the wrong battle.
Rafael Ciordia
11:19AM FEB 19TH 2013
Kin Caballero
10:57AM FEB 19TH 2013
Let me guess: you're publicly educated. That would explain your inability to reason.

"God did not leave it up to you to decide who is and is not equal."

Do you know what it means to "beg the question"? You're just assuming, a priori, that "gay marriage" is a question of equality. It isn't.

"There is this guy who has written some pretty incredible stuff about how to treat your fellow humans. His name was Jesus."

Right, because that's what Jesus was about: promoting sodomy and homosexual marriage.
12:32PM FEB 22ND 2013
My Jesus is not about hate and prejudice. I am sorry yours is. Cosidering that many Christians use to use the Bible to support slavery and segregation, I am not suprised by the hate filled hearts possessed by many evangelicals/fundamentalists.
Rafael Ciordia
11:21AM FEB 19TH 2013
When you have nothing to say, attack the person. WWJD?
Kin Caballero
11:26AM FEB 19TH 2013
You must also be publicly educated.

In case you didn't notice, I combined my personal insult with substantive criticism of his points.

Shut your trap and re-read the Gospels. Jesus was a conservative, not a liberated lesbian.
Real Conservative
12:05PM FEB 19TH 2013
"Shut your trap and re-read the Gospels. Jesus was a conservative, not a liberated lesbian."

Jesus is above our politics. As much as we might wish Him to always be on our side, Jesus showed little love for much of the conservative agenda these days (one can only imagine what He would think of American military operations in the Middle East for example). As much as I love the GOP, I love GOD more. I hope you do as well.
Kin Caballero
12:12PM FEB 19TH 2013
I said Jesus was a conservative -- which he was, *especially* when it came to sexual morality: see His radical position on divorce and remarriage, for example, which made orthodox Judaism look positively liberal! -- not that he was a Republican.
Real Conservative
1:16PM FEB 19TH 2013
On that limited example, I would happen to agree with you that He was a conservative. Still, I think many of the leading Jews on His era would have found His claim--that He was the Son of God--to be very radical. Other parts of His ministry, such as His attacks on the thieves in the temple and His general preference for traditional, rural life instead of city life can be seen as reactionary, a restoration of where the Jewish people had been when they walked closer with God. I think we make a serious mistake when we try to box Jesus in with descriptors. Too many on the left and in academic life do that and then present us with versions of Him that are false (and thus not Him). By presenting Jesus in human terms, we often can overlook the divine. Instead of elevating us closer to Him, we seem to drag Him to our lowly level.
Rafael Ciordia
11:46AM FEB 19TH 2013
Au contraire. Private Catholic schooling, private university and Catholic MBA. LOVE AND PEACE be with you.
Danita Kilcullen
9:30AM FEB 19TH 2013
Here is what my friend, George, from Sarasota wrote to Gaetz last month:

Sen. Gaetz: When you made the announcement of placing 3 Dems in Chair positions I wondered what you had in mind to deflect any pushback from republicans.......This is the same tactic Atwater used when he wanted to block immigration bills.........for supposedly a smart guy in a powerful position you sure don't have any imagination.......If it passes perhaps you have a surprise for people.
Danita Kilcullen
9:27AM FEB 19TH 2013
Here is what I sent out yesterday, in case you wish to allow your readers the Tea Party response:

Dear Tea Party:

OM Gosh! With friends like this we've no need for enemies. When will we finally rid ourselves of these charlatan leaders, --e.g., Florida Senate Chair, Don Gaetz,-- who continue to not only dilute the principles and denigrate the Republican party, but also all citizens who believe in American and Family values.

In my opinion, this is not unlike Obama's appointment of Ken Jennings to "Safe School Czar"!!!.... ["President Obama has appointed Kevin Jennings, founder of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) — which sponsored the conference that produced the notorious “Fistgate” scandal (in which young teens were guided on how to perform dangerous homosexual perversions including “fisting”) — to head up “Safe Schools” efforts at the Department of Education. Jennings is a vicious, anti-religious bigot who once said “[F–k] ‘em” to the “Religious Right.” He supports promoting homosexuality and gender confusion as normative to even young students. He made that comment in a New York City church"].

Please take time to email Gaetz and please do not be afraid to tell him exactly what you think of this outrageous political, progressive, communist appointment. Read below just a couple of the 50-year old communist goals for America, taken from the book, "The Naked Communist."

26. Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “normal, natural and healthy.”
40. Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce.

This woman must not remain in this appointment to represent the values and principles of the Godly, the Family, and the true conservative people of Florida. I support the Florida Family Association.

Danita Kilcullen
12:43PM FEB 22ND 2013
The Florida Family Association is a troglodyte group of rednecks who believe dinasours once walked with man and that women ideally should be barefoot and pregnant.

Florida may not pass any bills supporting GLBT rights in the near future, but nationally it is a different story. Eventually legislation will be passed in DC outlawing GLBT discrimination in the workplace and the Danita Kilcullen's of the world will have to live with it (such as the people who opposed Civil Rights legislation in the 1960's were forced to).
Rafael Ciordia
11:29AM FEB 19TH 2013
Either Marriage creates a sounder, saner society and is good, therefore would benefit anyone who marries. Or, it is a thing to be cleaved from love, denied to those who happen to love someone of their own sex, and should be denied - which would then promote the very promiscuity and instability you fear.

The beauty of a free and just society is that you have the option to choose to live according to your moral compass. Don't deny others their right to pursue life, liberty and happiness simply because it doesn't follow your prescription. Peace!

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