As attorney general of Florida, it’s a vital part of Pam Bondi’s job to enforce state laws and defend them in court. She can’t pick and choose only those she likes.
But she also has a duty to pay attention to changes in the law, and in the public attitudes that support those laws. The public expects elected officials to use their discretion when the situation demands it. Ms. Bondi has dutifully beseeched the courts to uphold Florida’s ban against gay marriage, but she lost the first round last week in a ruling by Monroe County Chief Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia, who ordered the county clerk’s office to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. More of the same may well follow.
The ruling has been stayed while the state appeals. Yet it should be increasingly clear that Ms. Bondi and officials in Tallahassee are swimming against the legal tide on the issue of gay marriage. Laws similar to Florida’s have been swept away in a wave of decisions around the country, with the rulings upheld by federal courts. It’s only a matter of time before this state’s statute similarly is found unconstitutional.
Last Friday, Oklahoma became the latest state to have a federal appeals court rule that its officials could not deny gay couples their “fundamental right” to wed. The same panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit had shortly before decided that Utah’s ban was also unconstitutional.
The rulings are the first at the federal appellate level since the U.S. Supreme Court changed the legal landscape by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.
The federal appellate rulings are likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, but the handwriting’s on the wall. Same-sex marriage advocates have won more than 20 court victories around the country since the Supreme Court decision. Sooner or later gay marriage will be the rule rather than the exception everywhere, as it should be.
If there was a time when it was considered proper for the state to discriminate against gays, surely those days are long over. A Quinnipiac poll in April found that Florida voters support allowing same-sex couples to marry by a margin of 56 to 39 percent. Other recent polls show the same trend.
Thus, there is reason to believe public attitudes in Florida don’t support the gay-marriage ban. Second, there is no moral reason for Ms. Bondi to continue to pursue this case; it’s rank discrimination. Third, the legal underpinning of gay-marriage bans is rapidly being dismantled. And finally, in political terms, the issue is a loser as the state grows more accepting of gay marriage.
Ms. Bondi has fulfilled her duty by battling to support the law, but there’s a point beyond which it becomes futile to keep fighting it out in court. She should support the move to get the case before the state Supreme Court as quickly as possible to get a dispositive ruling and be done with it as soon as possible without further needless waste of state resources.