Issue #58: A Look back at Florida's Amendment to Ban Same-Sex Marriage
Obergefell v. Hodges at risk?
Today marks the final day of Pride Month in America. It comes as LGBT people in Florida, and the nation, face renewed attacks and discrimination. The attacks date back to the 1970s.
“Oh LGBT people can’t be trusted around children”
“Oh they try to recruit people”
“Its their business, but why do they have to rub it in our faces”
It is as infuriating as it is old. Lines that date back to the 1970s debates around letting gay people be teachers.
To mark the end of pride month, I have decided to look back at the 2008 measure to ban same-sex marriage in Florida. Why? To show these attacks are hold news, and these efforts don’t age well.
Getting to the Ballot
Efforts to put a ban of same-sex marriage on the Florida ballot began after the 2004 elections. In 2003, SSM was legalized in Massachusetts by the courts; sparking a fear campaign from conservatives. The Presidential cycle had seen a large number of states pass SSM bans; part of an effort from national Republicans and the Bush campaign to generate support and turnout in religious communities. Referendums on the issue became common from 2004 through 2012.
While SSM was already illegal in Florida, the conservative org, Florida Family Policy Council, led to the petition drive for a constitutional amendment. The Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage was formed, aiming to get the petitions for a 2006 referendum. Conservatives argued a constitutional amendment was needed to prevent the then-liberal State Supreme Court from invalidating the 1997 statute. The petition effort did not move fast enough to secure the 2006 ballot. However, with the aid of $300,000 from the Republican Party of Florida, the petition effort did succeed for the 2008 ballot. The ballot summary read as follows. The proposal would be Amendment 2.
This amendment protects 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.
The move to 2008 raised the burned for the amendment pushers. In 2006, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment to mandate 60% for any measure to be passed by referendum.
For opponents of the measure, the goal to stop passage was easier. Keeping the referendum under 50% was likely impossible; giving the opinion polls of the time, but getting it under 60% was at least doable.
The opposition to the measure was divided into two camps. First was Florida Red and Blue, a bipartisan led organization that was closely tied to wealthy donors. This org had the most money, raising a few million from wealthy individuals. The group aimed to be a bipartisan opposition org; targeting white and older voters. One tactic of the group was to emphasize that the measure’s language could interfere with the domestic partnerships that many retirees end up in when a spouse dies. Retiree communities have many domestic partner couples that did not believe in re-marriage. Red and Blue targeted these voters, warning that a strict interpretation of the amendment could hurt their legal standings.
The second org was Fairness for All Families, which was an offshoot of Equality Florida. FAF was the organization for progressives. They had fewer donor ties and hence were underfunded compared to Red and Blue. The biggest difference in the strategy of the two groups was whether to target minority voters; namely black voters. FAF, led by Nadine Smith, was adamant that black voters, who generally opposed SSM due to religious conviction, could be persuaded. While Obama was still four years away from declaring his support for same-sex marriage, he also did not support these referendums. Smith and FAF worked to tie opposition to the amendment to Obama’s generals calls for equality and non-discrimination. These tactics did show promise, but funding was still limited.
Money-wise, the opponents of Amendment 2 outspent supporters. Opposition raised over $4 million, while proponents raised around $1.5 million. For a state like Florida, these are pretty paltry sums. Both sides were hurt by the money pouring into California’s Amendment 8 campaign. There, $45 million was spent by opponents, $40 million by supporters. The campaign for Amendment 2 was dwarfed by the Presidential contest.
When the votes were cast on election night, the YES on 2 campaign secured 62% of the vote, just enough to approve the amendment. The measure passed in every county except Monroe (home to the Florida Keys). Several democratic counties; namely Leon, Broward, Palm Beach, and Alachua, had narrow margins. The rural counties where overwhelmingly for the measure.
NOTE: A big thanks to Anastasia for her helping me getting this data formatted and organized in a very tight turnaround. Check out her Patreon here.
Liberal pockets stand out in opposition to the amendment. White liberal precincts in Tallahassee and Gainesville stand out in the panhandle. White voters in Southeast Florida were heavily opposed to the amendment.
Efforts to target retirees paid off in southeast Florida. The precincts that encompass retirees from the NYC region, which includes a large Jewish population, were opposed to the amendment. However, the GOP-heavy retiree community of The Villages backed the measure.
Jewish voters, retiree or not, opposed the amendment. Exits put opposition at 62%, which comes close to precinct data out of southeast Florida.
A great deal of discussion and study has centered around the effect of non-white voters; namely African-Americans. These bans performed well with black voters across the states thanks to the large Church attendance in the community. I discussed the conflict amongst opposition to the amendment when it came to targeting black voters. So what do the results tell us?
African-Americans backed the amendment. However, the 70% support that exit polls indicate is clearly inflated by response bias. Precinct data (using precincts over 85% black in registration) gives us a better idea of support.
Black voters in Tallahassee backed the amendment with 64% support
Black voters in the Tampa Bay backed the amendment with 60% support
Black voters in Miami-Dade backed the amendment with 55% support
Black voters in Broward backed the amendment with 63% support.
Black voters in Jacksonville backed the amendment with 70% support
Support in the heavily-black precincts varied across the state, reflecting differing campaign tactics as well as other cultural considerations. The high support in Jacksonville is a perfect example of this; as the region has long been more culturally conservative with strong black Baptist church influence. What drove black support for the measure is the strong church presence and cultural conservatism: something that varied from community to community. The varied results points to Smith likely having the right idea that black voters could be persuaded on the issue. Move those shares down a couple percentage points, and suddenly staying under 60% seems doable.
The data from Broward County highlights the mixed coalitions around this vote. Its so complex I might need to do another deep dive down the line. The Broward precinct data shows several key points. In central Broward; around Lauderhill and Ft Lauderdale, Caribbean voters were stronger for YES than non-Caribbean black voters. However, black voters in Northwest Pompano, regardless of Caribbean status, where more supportive of the measure. I cannot help but wonder if the Ft Lauderdale black communities proximity to Wilton Manors, a prominent LGBT community, softened support for the measure.
The Broward map shows support for the measure across the southern precincts; which are a mix of Hispanic and Caribbean voters. Prominent suburbs like Plantation, Ft Lauderdale communities, and Weston, rejected the proposal. Though Weston was split along its whiter and more Hispanic precincts. Jewish retirees in communities like Century Village and Wynmoor rejected the amendment; as did non-retiree Jewish Communities like Embassy Creek in my hometown of Cooper City. Jewish communities moved opposition in Hallandale and Parkland.
The precinct data confirms Hispanic support for the measure as well. The plurality-Hispanic precincts in Orange and Osceola were supportive of the measure by varying degrees. Support for the amendment in the Cuban community of Miami Dade (precincts that over over 80% Hispanic) was right around 69%.
The same day that the amendment passed, Obama won the state by right around 3% points, the best showing for a Democratic candidate for President since 1996; and which has not been topped sense.
In the precincts that backed John McCain, the amendment passed 67%-33%. However, in the precincts Barack Obama won, the measure only passed by a 56%-44% margin; below the 60% threshold.
How the NO vote compared to Obama can be seen below.
The precinct map shows that NO did outpace Obama in assorted communities; namely educated suburbs. The proposal underperformed the most in the heavily black precincts; where Obama was getting over 90% of the vote.
One narrative that emerged after the election was that the surge of black voters coming out to vote for Obama helped the amendment pass 62%. However, this comprehensive study of the votes and survey data shows that this is not likely the case. Even without an increase in black voters, the measure still would have cleared 60%. The focus on non-white voters also glossed over the fact that support for the amendment was strongest in rural white precincts. These areas gave over 80% support to the measure. These precincts stand out far more than black or Hispanic communities.
The amendment would eventually be struck down by the courts in the 2014 case of Brenner v. Scott. In 2015, the US Supreme Court voted 5-4 in Obergefell v. Hodges to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
Since this measure was approved, the dynamic around same-sex marriage has drastically changed. Support for SSM nationwide stood at 61% in 2019, compared to the 39% it had in 2008. This has included massive swings with non-white voters; with black, white, and Hispanic voters giving their support to equality.
Of course, we are now in an era of a far-right, reactionary supreme court. The repeal of Roe vs Wade is likely to be followed by other conservative court decisions. Obergefell could be at risk. I put nothing past this court. If it is overturned, then Florida’s ban would go back into effect.
So perhaps left wing groups should begin the process of getting a ballot measure set for 2024 to codify the right to marry who you chose. I think it is clear that the current courts cannot be counted on for protecting rights.