First they banned marriage and adoption by gay couples; now Florida religious-rightists want to tax marriage for heterosexual couples and compel lower-income couples to attend counseling that presently is provided by religious non-profits.

The $100 tax would raise the cost of a Florida marriage license to almost $200. The objective, antigay activists say, is to strengthen marriage. Marriage, that is, for middle- and upper-income Christian Republicans.

Who’s responsible for this plan to save marriage from po’ folks, non-Christians, and liberals?

The Sun-Sentinel’s Broward Politics blog blames the Florida Family Policy Council — an affiliate of Focus on the Family — and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

John Stemberger and the Florida Family Policy Council, with support from the Catholic Church, is out to make it more difficult — or at least more expensive — for straight couples to wed.

It’ not that Stemberger has anything against heterosexual marriage. To the contrary, he said the goal is to make it stronger.

Stemberger and his allies want to add $100 to the fee for a Florida marriage license, bringing the total to $193.50. Most of the charge — $132.50 — would be erased for a couple that goes through eight hours of premarital education.

Currently, couples can get a discount of $32.50 for four hours of education, but supporters of the new proposal said the financial incentive isn’t enough to encourage participation.

Opponents don’t think the state should tax marriage or become involved in sectarian religious proselytization.

[Nan] Rich, a Weston Democrat and vice chairwoman of the Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, said she didn’t think it would achieve the stated goal. Until people are married and have to deal with money and children, she said it’ impossible for them to know what’ coming.

Rich said it’ fine for religious or non-profit groups to offer all the education and counseling they want — something the Catholic Church, for example, requires. “I just don’t think the state should be involved in this.” …

Gay rights activist Waymon Hudson, of Oakland Park, who battled Stemberger over the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment last year, said people who want to get married shouldn’t be forced to choose between paying almost $200 for a license or indoctrination into Stemberger’ ideal of the “Leave it to Beaver family.”

“It’ basically using state funds to proselytize their viewpoint,” he said.

Many people marry at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons, and many people are surprised at the difficulty of managing a marital relationship. Proper education may help people choose marital partners and manage marriage more wisely.

But such education should be voluntary, should occur a neutral context that is free of sectarian religious spin, and must not discriminate on the basis of income. Public secondary schools would seem to be an ideal place for teen-agers and young adults to learn about family life — and many public schools do offer family-life courses, despite opposition from the religious right.