The Christ Church of Peace, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Jacksonville, has launched “Know Thy Neighbour Florida,” an outreach ministry directed at Floridians who believe in equal marriage rights.

The church will include on their site the names of those who signed the petition in favour of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment.

Of the 611,009 signatures necessary to place the amendment on the November 2006 ballot, only 455,363 were gathered by the February 1, 2006, deadline.

However, the group sponsoring the petition initiative, Florida4Marriage.org, continues in its efforts to obtain the additional signatures needed to place the issue before voters in 2008. If the amendment were to pass, it would amend Florida’s State Constitution to define marriage as a “legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and that, “no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognised.”

Millions of tax-paying gay and lesbian Floridians would be denied equal access to civil marriage, gay marriage, and all other forms of legal recognition such as domestic partnerships and civil unions could be at risk.

The goal of Know Thy Neighbour Florida is two-fold. Visitors to the Jacksonville church’s website can view the list of petition signers and if they see the name of a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbour, they then have an opportunity to initiate an open and meaningful conversation with that person about how this discriminatory amendment would affect their life and, in many cases, the lives of their children. There are also concerns about the possibility of fraud in the collection of signatures.

“When KnowThyNeighbour.org was launched in Massachusetts last year, it resulted in numerous reports of alleged fraud. While we are not saying that is the case here in Florida, we do believe the only real way to check for possible fraud is to give all Floridians easy and meaningful access to view this public information,” said Christ Church of Peace founding member, John Schumpert.

“I was excited from the first moment that the idea was presented to me for our church to sponsor Know Thy Neighbour Florida,” said the Reverend Gary DeBusk, pastor of Christ Church of Peace. “A portion of our church’s vision statement reads, ‘We will be a tool for social change.’ And what better way is there to advocate for change than to support equal rights for all people. As the February 1st deadline for signed petitions was approaching, Christ Church of Peace received daily e-mails, faxes and phone calls urging us to gather signatures at worship services and church functions.

“Now, of course, those who contacted us did not know that Christ Church of Peace is primarily made up of the very people that they are discriminating against. All that they knew was that we were on a list of churches. And unfortunately, a large percentage of their base is from churches. I find it sad that churches, in the name of God and Jesus the Christ, will promote discrimination and marginalisation of people, and through peer pressure garner the signatures of their congregants.

“But, of course, it was also many of these same churches that opposed black civil rights. They were wrong then and they are wrong now! The proposed state constitutional amendment is discriminatory; it limits rights and marginalizes an entire segment of the population; which is completely contrary in a country that self-identifies as the leader of the free world. How free is it when some of its tax-paying citizens are relegated as second class?”

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