Florida should begin conversation over same-sex marriage

As Republicans, we are united in our common conservative ideals of limited government, open and fair markets and allegiance to the family values that nurture a healthy and functional society. When government acts in ways that affect individual freedoms, we believe it should strive to promote personal responsibility, commitment to honorable behavior and stability and opportunities for families. Thus, ensuring every individual’s civil freedom to marry the person they love is a basic component to the pursuit of happiness.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s ban on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8, were fundamentally about whether gay and lesbian Americans deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. In his ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, affirmed the principle that all couples who are legally married in their state deserve equal respect and treatment under the law.

A majority of the court found that DOMA diminished the importance and protections of marriage for same-sex couples and that the law presented certain harm to the children of those couples. For thousands of same-sex married couples, this ruling means that they can better protect each other and their families as heterosexual married couples have been allowed to under federal law.

However, the repeal of DOMA will expand protections for those legally married only in the 13 states that recognize the freedom to marry whomever one loves. In 37 other states, including Florida, same-sex couples will continue to face discrimination. Why would we want our fellow Floridians to have fewer rights and responsibilities than citizens in other states?

In fact, many of our fellow citizens have moved to Florida from some of these states that offer full equality — how does the inequality here hurt their families or the appeal of calling our state home? Laws that treat citizens differently are at odds with the principles of individual liberty. We believe it is time for a renewed conversation in Florida about how to fix that disparity.

In a 2008 referendum, slightly more than the required 60 percent of Florida voters decided to ban marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples. We faced the challenge of telling our gay and lesbian family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers that they were less deserving of the rights afforded to other loving, committed couples. While passage of this constitutional ban was disappointing for many of us, it is also important to point out that there were good people — also our family, neighbors and friends — who were driven by strongly held beliefs to support this amendment five years ago.

But, five years is a lifetime in politics, and the landscape on the issue of the freedom to marry has changed in remarkable ways. Today, poll after poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans supporting the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. In our home state of Florida, polling has showed that 54 percent of the population supports marriage equality, and 75 percent supports some form of legal recognition for these couples. Just last year, three states legalized same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Additionally, three states passed marriage equality legislatively this year.

Given these trends, it is no surprise that the ranks of supporters of marriage equality in Washington, D.C., have swelled to include the president of the United States, 55 Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. Senate and more than 180 bipartisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, we were honored to join more than 130 of our fellow conservatives in filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court making the conservative case for the freedom to marry.

In light of the court’s rulings in support of civil marriage for same-sex couples, Florida should begin to evaluate the decision that was made five years ago. The path to removing our state’s ban on the freedom to marry will be very challenging, and will take time to do so thoughtfully and with respect for everyone’s beliefs and opinions. It is wrong to deny LGBT Floridians the basic rights enjoyed by so many other Americans. We must actively, and authentically, engage our fellow citizens to ensure that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are extended to all Floridians.

Our nation has taken a number of historic strides towards equality, from the repeal of the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy to this recent repeal of DOMA. Much work remains to secure maximum freedoms under the law for all our citizens, but when we look back on these efforts, we will be proud to have been on the right side of history.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, represents Florida’s 27th District in Congress. Jonathan Kislak is a former Republican appointee in the administration of President George H.W. Bush and served in 2008 as chairman of the Florida Red and Blue campaign, which organized to defeat Florida’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

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