The measure that denies benefits to unmarried Floridians will hit seniors particularly hard, according to the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.
"Many seniors who are widowed do not remarry because, if they do, they risk losing essential pension benefits or they fear that a new marriage might upset estate plans for their adult children," said Barbara DeVane, secretary for Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. "This amendment threatens to strip away essential health and family protections unmarried seniors count on to take care of themselves and their loved ones."
Already, backers of the amendment are preparing to challenge Tampa's domestic partnership policy that provides health coverage and other protections to firefighters, police officers and other municipal employees.
Bentley Lipscomb, former Head of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, agrees that the measure could have a large unintended impact on elderly couples.
"The way they drafted this amendment will cause problems and create obstacles for some Florida seniors," Lipscomb said. "Unmarried older couples would not be able to enjoy the same ability to take care of each other. Even visiting their loved one in the hospital when they are sick would be problematic. Then, there's the whole legal issue around making decisions about the end of life."
Some widows and widowers see marriage as a religious commitment that they will only have once. Yet, they often form loving bonds with someone who becomes their closest family, whom they care for and love.
"We've seen what has happened in other states where these kind of amendments have passed. Unmarried partners are now denied vital benefits and protections. The government should not make it harder for people to take care of their loved ones and that is exactly what Amendment 2 will do," said DeVane.
The harmful consequences of Amendment 2 are not limited to seniors. According to the Florida Legislature's own analysis of the proposal, all unmarried couples risk losing family protections that an overwhelming majority of Floridians support.
"If domestic partnership registries are deemed substantially equivalent to marriage, their termination could place registrants at risk of losing specified rights and benefits, such as those related to health insurance," according to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research which is required to identify the impact of any proposed amendment.
The report also warns that domestic violence laws may be impacted in Florida as they have been in Utah and Ohio.
"By invalidating any union or ‘substantial equivalent thereof,’ this amendment could be raised as a defense in domestic violence cases, resulting in fewer domestic violence convictions..."
Costs of litigation may increase the report states "involving both public sector and private sector entities and individuals."
The Florida Alliance for Retired Americans is committed to educating seniors on the harm this measure poses. FLARA has joined the Fairness for All Families Campaign, a coalition of more than 200 civil rights groups, senior, labor, faith and student groups working to defeat Amendment 2.