In a startling move Monday night, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said she wants the Florida Supreme Court to decide once-and-for-all whether same-sex couples can marry in the Sunshine State.
“That is unquestionably an important issue, and the Plaintiffs, the State, and all citizens deserve a definitive answer,” Bondi’s office wrote in a 6 p.m. filing to the state’s Third District Court of Appeal. “Until recently, the issue was squarely before the United States Supreme Court, and it appeared that a definitive answer was coming. ... Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court decided not to answer the question.”
Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the gay marriage issue in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, along with Wisconsin and Indiana, when it announced justices would not hear appeals in federal court decisions allowing same-sex marriages in those states. Since then, same-sex couples have also been allowed to wed in North Carolina, Idaho and Alaska. Now, 59 percent of Americans live in at least 30 states were same-sex marriage is legal, according to Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT activist group.
On July 17, Monroe County Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia declared Florida’s 2008 gay-marriage ban unconstitutional, ruling against Bondi, whose office defended the ban. He ordered that a Key West couple, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, had the right to marry, but an automatic stay in the case prevented the nuptials. On July 25, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel also declared Florida’s ban unconstitutional, finding in favor of six same-sex couples who want to marry. Her ruling also was stayed pending appeal.
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The attorney general took both losses to the Miami-based Third District Court of Appeal, where the cases were consolidated. Lawyers for the plaintiffs asked the Florida Supreme Court to take the cases immediately, but Bondi asked to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decided the issue.
Bondi, who is up for reelection in November, also said subsequent similar losses in Broward and Palm Beach counties, as well as in federal court in Tallahassee, should be decided in Washington.
Since it is unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will decide same-sex marriage anytime soon, Bondi has relented.
“Florida’s courts will therefore need to resolve the issue without further United States Supreme Court guidance,” she wrote in Monday’s filing. “Because there are cases pending in multiple districts, and because this is an issue of great public importance that now warrants immediate Florida Supreme Court review, the State respectfully suggests pass-through certification.”
Miami Beach attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, who co-represents the 12 Miami-Dade plaintiffs and LGBT rights group Equality Florida Institute, said, “This was unexpected, but we’re hopeful that this will result in speedier unions for Florida’s many loving, committed same-sex couples.” The six couples are Jorge Isaias Diaz and Don Price Johnston of Miami; Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood; and Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation.
“While we look forward to having this matter move forward to the Florida Supreme Court, and asked for this on July 30, Attorney General Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott continue to waste taxpayer money while same-sex couples throughout the state continue to endure the indignities of being treated like second-class citizens,” Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith said Monday night in a statement. “Nearly two-thirds of the country now live in a state that values equality. How much longer must loving couples in Florida wait to protect their families? Now is the time for Attorney General Bondi and Gov. Scott to step on the right side of history and not let Florida go down in history as one of the last states to uphold the principles of fairness.”
Attorney Bernadette Restivo, who co-represents Huntsman and Jones, described her clients as “giddy” upon hearing of Bondi’s latest filing.
“I think it’s starting to hit them that this is happening soon, and it’s becoming a reality,” Restivo said.
Before that happens, she said, the Third District Court of Appeal would have to agree to send the case to the Florida Supreme Court, and the justices there would have to agree to accept it.
“The attorney general’s pleading today was very well reasoned in that there are so few issues that present all the criteria necessary to warrant pass-through certification. The issue of marriage equality is that particular issue of our generation,” Restivo said. “What we are pleased with is seeing the attorney general understands the urgency of resolving this issue.”