The attorney general’s twisted logic

 

Tampa Bay Times

By Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s legal-eagle reasoning, if a federal court rules the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, the resulting chaos would be an Armageddon of paperwork, imploding Tallahassee’s computers and wreaking havoc on the Swiss watch-like precision of government operations.

In short, Bondi argued in a brief to a lawsuit challenging Florida’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states that to do so would cause“significant public harm.” And it was right about here that The Birdcage hit the fan.

Bondi’s “public harm” line enraged Florida’s gay community, which accused the attorney general of arguing same-sex marriage itself would cause great damage to the social fabric of the state. That is hardly a helpful image of discrimination to have in an election year.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Bondi.

Days earlier, comments by Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-God of Hellfire, had suggested Common Core school standards were a conspiracy to turn the state’s students into gays and lesbians. No one confuses Florida with the Age of Enlightenment.

Now, following Van Zant’s dunderheaded campaign to compare Common Core with Angels in America, Bondi found herself being portrayed as the Attorney General of Flori-Phobia.

So the attorney general went into damage control, explaining her“significant public harm” comment had been taken out of context. Bondi noted it is her legal obligation to defend a Florida constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2008.

“This case is not about which policy choice is better or worse,” Bondi said in a statement.“And this case is not about whether the debate should continue (which it surely will). This case is about whether states can make their own determinations.”

Fair enough.

But while Bondi would like everyone to believe her brief is a clear-eyed, dispassionate, objective view of her role as an attorney general defending a constitutional amendment, there is plenty to be found in its 34 pages to suggest otherwise.

To date, 19 states and the District of Columbia have embraced same-sex marriage, largely on the strength of the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause. But Bondi argued the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage because the state’s constitutional amendment “is rationally related to a legitimate state interest” and must be upheld “even if the law seems unwise or works to the disadvantage of a particular group, or if the rationale for it seems tenuous.”

Bondi’s tortured logic ignores the history of federal intervention in overturning a host of discriminatory state laws such as Jim Crow, separate-but-equal school policies and miscegenation statutes.

Then the attorney general turned her attention to her views on the core foundation of the institution of marriage: procreation of the species and “society’s legitimate interest in increasing the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by mothers and fathers who produced them in a stable and enduring family units.”

That sounds all very Walton family until you realize the most recent U.S. Census data lists Florida as ninth in the nation for its divorce rate.

Bondi argued that even if Florida’s constitutional same-sex marriage ban was the handiwork of religious hand-wringers who feared a plague of locusts should Lance and Larry get hitched, it is still valid because “even if Florida’s marriage law might have been enacted with the help of some with impermissible motives, the plaintiff’s argument must fail because (it) is a familiar practice of constitutional law that this court will not strike down an otherwise constitutional statute on the basis of an alleged illicit legislative motive.”

Is this a legal brief or an alibi?

Clearly Bondi’s sympathies lie with the anti-same-sex marriage crowd, her tepid protestations to being an evenhanded legal broker notwithstanding.

But she saved her best legal palaver for last, arguing the state’s gay marriage ban should remain in effect because to overturn it would be too hard.

The irreparable harm Bondi refers to is the difficulty in changing state computers to calculate insurance beneficiaries, retirement benefits and other services.

Almost half the country recognizes same-sex marriage without a software nuclear winter occurring. But by Bondi’s logic, the fourth-largest state can’t figure out how to change state records to reflect a gay union? Does Bondi believe she is the attorney general of Florida? Or the Duchy of Grand Fenwick?

Daniel Ruth, druth@tampabay.com, is a columnist with the Tampa Bay Times.

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