This is the final in the series analyzing the debate between John Stemberger and Nadine Smith at the Orlando Tiger Bay club luncheon. This debate was held on March 27, 2008. This will analyze the Question and Answer section, and the closing comments by Smith and Stemberger.
As noted in a comment on a previous article in the series, “Studies of places that have a high “creativity quotient, which attract talented young people to move to these places, show that acceptance of LGBT folks is high on the list of criteria that these young folks look for, when they consider moving.” In light of that, the first question from the audience concerns the fact that fully one-half of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner benefits. The questioner points out that they probably don’t do this to pay more for insurance, but to attract talent. His question is, won’t this make it more difficult for Florida to attract talented people?
Stemberger dismissively responds saying, “We’re going to define marriage as being between a man and a woman…this is nothing new. We’re just taking the statute and putting it in the Constitution to protect it from activist judges. Nothings going to change…”
Stemberger then refuses to answer the question about whether or not this amendment would make civil unions unconstitutional, saying he’s already answered the question, but that it depends on the definition of civil union. He falls back on the idea that so long as only a small group of rights are granted, the Amendment would have no impact…again, saying it’s OK for gay people to have a few rights…just not all the straight people have. Once again, Stemberger makes it a zero sum game. If you get the same rights, somehow I lose mine.
Smith responds to the question by stating the obvious, that Civil Unions will be prohibited. She goes on to say that she does not want people to go to the poles and vote based on fear, but based respect for all families. That was a good point to get in. She hits Stemberger on the zero sum fear he’s trying to espouse by reminding people that you do nothing to protect your own marriage by taking away the rights of other people.
In response to a question about why add the Amendment now, Stemberger goes on the defensive about those darned activist judges again, and points out that in several states they have struck down marriage laws, and that it’s only a matter of time before they do it here in Florida. He then makes an idiotic remark about Republican Governor Crist, calling him Governor “live and let live.” Probably not a good thing to attack a well liked Republican Governor.
The next question is about eliminating the language “or substantial equivalent thereof.” Stemberger responds with the lawyerly response that it’s a hypothetical that’s not before us. (Stemberger is a personal injury attorney which says something.) He goes on to make the ridiculous claim that the phrase was included to make the amendment “crystal clear” because they didn’t want, “fuzzy language.” Only a Republican would talk like that. Stemberger talks about the opposition using the language to create scare tactics to throw at people. It occurs to me that he’s the one using the “scare” language. He talks constantly about activist judges, and about protecting children. Those are scare tactics and code words.
In his closing comments, Stemberger using a familiar tactic, picking out one phrase by one person and hanging around the neck of all gay people. In this case, he talks about comments by Rosie O’Donnell in an interview some years ago. He goes so far as to say, “We can learn a lot from Rosie.” He talks about O’Donnell making a comment about her lack of a mother compared with her son’s lack of a father, and claims it to be self-centered and uses it to say that this elevates an adults desires above the welfare of children…again, trotting the old the saw of protecting children from the horrible gay people. He attempts to make some sort of high-minded ethereal statement at the end that just results in laughter from the audience.
Smith finishes strong and gets extended applause from the audience.
An article reporting on the debate in the Orlando Sentinel said:
If I had to make a prediction, the folks pushing for a gay-marriage ban will either change their techniques or simply stop trying to make their case in person before this campaign is over — because their effort to do so today in Orlando fell pretty darn flat. […]
[…] in today’s performance, he sounded more angry and ineffective. Rather than staying focused on the amendment he’s championing, he called Smith’s arguments “pathetic.” He tried to scare the crowd with the potential of gay-friendly decisions by “activist judges” and “Governor Live-and-let-live” (his name for Charlie Crist). And when looking for an anecdote of a gay person, Stemberger threw out comments from Rosie O’Donnell as a rationale for why Floridians should rally behind him.
Given the general conservative nature of the Tiger Bay club attendees, I’d say this doesn’t bode well. Let’s hope the people of Florida are better than this.