A proposed amendment that would uphold traditional marriage is in danger of not making the November ballot as organizers of a petition effort are currently thousands of signatures short.
Leaders of Florida4Marriage.org, backers of the initiative, have only two weeks to collect the required 611,009 signatures. They are short some 22,000. Petitions must be delivered to the organization's Orlando office by Tuesday, Jan. 29.
"We are in a state of constitutional emergency with this announcement, and we need immediate action from everyone who supports the Florida Marriage Amendment," John Stemberger, state chairman for Florida4Marriage.org, told the Florida Baptist Witness.
The group had announced in December that it had enough petition signatures to get on the ballot.
An audit by the Florida Division of Elections, however, found on Monday that only 589,020 signatures had been verified. The Miami Herald reported that as a result of a "counting glitch" some signatures were counted twice.
Florida4Marriage.org blasted an e-mail to supporters Tuesday, urging them to take immediate action and to "pull out all stops" in collecting the signatures.
"Right now, we are not interested in whose fault this is," said Stemberger in the e-mail. "We just want to finish the job – and finish it immediately."
Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a Fla.-based Christian legal organization, said pastors and churches will play the key role in ensuring the petition effort's success.
"There is no restriction on pastors and churches," he told Baptist Press. "What I would encourage pastors to do is to distribute a marriage petition to every single member in the congregation and set aside a few minutes to walk them through how to fill it out, and then have the ushers collect those and get them to Florida4Marriage.org by Federal Express.
"I would not simply have a table in the back, because you could have a several-thousand-member church and only obtain a few hundred signatures that way. We don't have time to do that anymore," Staver noted.
Stemberger said he's certain that supporters will fill up the deficit, reported the Times-Union. But he is less sure that county boards of elections will be able to certify them by Feb. 1.
"We are praying they will have the logistical capability to process them before the deadline," he told the newspaper.
The proposed Florida amendment states, "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."
Florida has a law that bars same-sex "marriages," but the law is not part of the state constitution.
According to Florida4Marriage.org, the amendment – which prohibits polygamy, group marriage, and same-sex "marriages" – would prevent the possibility of a judge overturning the state law.