Fla. Proposition Results

Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage headed for the books

Voters largely approved a constitutional ban on same-sex and domestic partnerships, but amendments to help local schools raise money and to strike racist language from state law failed.

A ban on gay marriage, which is already illegal in Florida, looks like it will be enshrined in the state Constitution.

The Florida Marriage Protection Amendment is one of four constitutional changes that appeared headed for approval with 95 percent of statewide precincts reporting. The others are tax breaks for land conservation, working waterfronts and homeowners who install hurricane shutters or solar panels.

An amendment that would have allowed community colleges to raise tax money locally, and another that would have removed an obsolete state law prohibiting foreigners from owning property in Florida, looked like they wouldn't muster the 60 percent vote needed for approval.

The marriage protection amendment defines marriage as a bond between straight couples and renders invalid any other union that is "treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent."

Opponents view that language as a threat to domestic partnerships, arrangements recognized by some local governments in Florida which ensure access to shared health insurance benefits and hospital visitation rights for gay couples and unmarried heterosexuals.

"The master plan of our opposition is social engineering to make sure homosexuals have no rights," said C.J. Ortuño, Executive Director of SAVE, Miami-Dade's largest gay rights group.

Supporters of the amendment claim that gay marriage devalues the nuclear family and deprives children of the benefits of growing up with a traditional mom and dad.

The measure was leading with 62 percent of the vote.

On the financial front, voters showed predictable enthusiasm for tax cuts.

Marinas, boat builders and commercial fishermen appear to be in line for a significant break, thanks to the success of the "working waterfront" amendment.

The measure will require county assessors to value such properties based on their current use, not what the land could be worth if it were turned into waterfront condos.

The amendment could put an $80 million dent in tax revenues next year, according to a state estimate.

"I feel great that the people have come out and voted for their waterfront," said Luis Garcia, owner of Garcia's Seafood Grille on the Miami River. His family also owns a commercial fishing company nearby. In another measure headed for approval, Florida homeowners can now turn their piece of the American dream into a storm proof bunker, or go green with electricity-generating solar panels, with no fear the additions will raise their property taxes.

Voters looked poised to approve, by 61 percent, an amendment that will prohibit county assessors from counting such improvements -- including hurricane shutters and impact resistant glass -- when they calculate a house's value for tax purposes.

The benefits would apply to homes but not businesses.

The state legislature estimated that the total tax loss would be $3.4 million in the first year.

It also looked like voters would prove, by 68 percent, a measure to give tax breaks to owners who promise not to develop their land.

The Property Tax Exemption for Perpetually Conserved Land faced no organized opposition: it was lauded by environmentalists and proposed by a public affairs specialist for the St. Joe Co. -- the state's largest corporate landowner.

Under the amendment, owners who agree to set aside property forever would be totally exempt from property taxes. Sheltering land temporarily would put them in line for a lower tax rate.

It would be up to the Legislature to sort out the fine points, like how long land has to be set aside to earn the temporary exemption. Some critics fear that developers might declare their land "conserved" just long enough to ride out a slumping real estate market.

The biggest loser appeared to be community colleges. Statewide education budget cuts have forced deep cuts, so college presidents pushed an amendment that would have allowed them to reach out to local voters for direct tax support.

But the amendment appeared headed for defeat. Eduardo J. Padron, president of Miami Dade College, the nation's largest community college, led the amendment drive. But 57 percent of voters opposed it.

"This is going to close the door on a lot of people," Padron said. "We're going to curtail a lot of people's opportunity."

Miami Herald Staff Writer Steve Rothaus contributed to this report.