LGBTQ South Florida

Pam Bondi asks U.S. judge: Do not lift stay in Florida’s federal same-sex marriage case

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks to reporters in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in 2012.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks to reporters in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in 2012. AP File

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Friday asked U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle not to lift his stay — an action that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the Sunshine State.

“The Clerk of Court of Washington County, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), and the Secretary of the Florida Department of Health (DOH) (collectively, the ‘Enjoined Officials’), move to continue the stay pending appeal,” Bondi wrote in a filing Friday. They also respond in opposition to the plaintiffs’ requests to lift the stay.”

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, responded: “This is how an attorney general uses the law to serve an ideology and partisan politics, rather than justice.”

If Hinkle lifts the stay, it is likely he would give Bondi another week to file an appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta before allowing couples to marry, Simon said.

“It’s disappointing that Attorney General Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott have chosen to continue to swim against the tide of inevitable history and block Florida families from having the protections that come with being married,” said Daniel Tilley, the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT rights staff attorney.

“We are hopeful that the court will reject the state’s effort to keep the stay in place and allow marriages to go forward and be recognized in Florida,” Tilley said. “Love won in Florida when Judge Hinkle ruled in favor of the families in our case. Whatever obligation Attorney General Bondi felt she had to continue defending this unconstitutional and discriminatory ban ended that day.”

Simon criticized Bondi for further politicizing the same-sex marriage issue.

“She’s running out the clock, and I can’t help but think that it’s so much more politics than law,” Simon told the Miami Herald. “Would the Florida attorney general’s office be handling this case differently if it weren’t a week-and-a-half away from an election? Apparently the evil she is trying to prevent is that maybe marriage ceremonies will break out all over Florida.”

On Aug. 21, Hinkle ruled that Florida’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, saying he would stay his ruling until after “the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the pending applications, at that time, from Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia,” according to Simon.

Bondi and Scott, who both oppose lifting the gay ban in Florida, appealed the case to federal court in Atlanta, which has jurisdiction over Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

On Friday, Bondi asked that the stay remain in effect until after the case is heard in Atlanta.

“This Court has already entered a limited stay after recognizing the ‘substantial public interest in stable marriage laws,’ and it should continue the stay until the federal appeals court can review the decision,” Bondi wrote to Hinkle. “On balance, it is in the public’s best interest to wait for an appellate decision before implementing an order of this significance.”

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 6 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. A day later, the ACLU of Florida asked Hinkle to lift his stay and immediately allow gay marriage in Florida.

“In light of yesterday’s pathbreaking development, Plaintiffs respectfully submit that the Court should lift the stay immediately,” ACLU lawyers wrote to Hinkle on Oct. 7.

Bondi had 17 days to respond to the request, according to Stephen F. Rosenthal, an appellate attorney with Podhurst Orseck in Miami, who is working with the ACLU on the case.

The case involves 22 individuals, including nine married couples, who sued Florida to recognize their marriages or grant them marriage licenses. Plaintiffs in the case include eight same-sex couples from throughout Florida and the LGBT-rights group SAVE.

In March, eight same-sex couples who married elsewhere in the United States sued Florida to recognize their unions: Sloan Grimsley and Joyce Albu of Palm Beach Gardens; Lindsay Myers and Sarah Humlie of Pensacola; Chuck Hunziger and Bob Collier of Broward; Juan Del Hierro and Thomas Gantt Jr. of Miami; Christian Ulvert and Carlos Andrade of Miami; Richard Milstein and Eric Hankin of Miami; Robert Loupo and John Fitzgerald of Miami, and Denise Hueso and Sandra Jean Newson of Miami.

On April 10, the ACLU amended its complaint by adding another plaintiff: Arlene Goldberg of Fort Myers, whose wife, Carol Goldwasser, died March 13. Goldberg and Goldwasser had been partners for 47 years. They moved from the Bronx to Florida in 1989 and married in New York in October 2011.

The ACLU suit eventually was consolidated with a similar federal case involving two couples in North Florida, one already married in Canada and the other wanting to wed.

The gay-marriage battle is being waged across the nation. According to the national group Freedom to Marry, LGBT advocates have won more than 30 times in federal, state and appellate courts since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, a lesbian widow, and threw out a key portion of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 31 states, according to the national group Freedom to Marry.

Since mid-July there have been five rulings in Florida declaring the state’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional. The previous four rulings were in local courts throughout South Florida. One ruling, in Broward, was vacated after Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen said the state had not been properly notified in the case.

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