LGBTQ South Florida

Attorney General Pam Bondi files formal appeal in South Florida gay marriage cases

In July: Key Westers William Lee Jones and Aaron Huntsman with their attorneys Elena Vigil-Farinas and Bernadette Restivo, awaiting a court decision by Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia.
In July: Key Westers William Lee Jones and Aaron Huntsman with their attorneys Elena Vigil-Farinas and Bernadette Restivo, awaiting a court decision by Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia. www.vincentdevriesphoto.com

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday night formally asked an appeals court to overrule two South Florida judges who found the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

“These consolidated appeals raise the question whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution bars the State of Florida from defining marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman,” Bondi wrote in a filing to the Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.

“Florida has long defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In 2008, voters amended the Florida Constitution to reaffirm that policy. The United States Constitution does not prohibit Florida or its voters from making that choice, and the trial courts’ contrary conclusions were wrong,” Bondi wrote in the filing. “As the United States Supreme Court has recognized, States have the virtually exclusive authority to define and regulate marriage. Consistent with that authority, States may choose to allow same-sex marriage, as several States have. But States may also choose to maintain a traditional definition of marriage, as several other States have. Principles of federalism leave the choice to the States.”

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. 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. LGBT-rights group Equality Florida Institute also is a plaintiff.

The attorney general took both losses to the Miami-based Third District Court of Appeal, where the cases were consolidated.

Bondi’s deadline for filing was Monday night, which she met “with hours to spare,” according to attorney Bernadette Restivo, who co-represents Huntsman and Jones.

The filing is quite similar to arguments raised Friday when Bondi appealed a federal judge’s order that also found Florida’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

“I would describe it as a regurgitation,” Restivo said Monday night.

No one knows how long it will be before the Third District Court of Appeal hears the case. It’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court may decide another state’s marriage case before a Florida appeal courts rules.

“All we can control is what we have before us. I explained to my clients that this case is like eating a bowl of spaghetti with a knife. There are so many moving pieces, it’s hard to get satisfied,” said Restivo, who is angry that Bondi’s appeal partially hinges on the longtime history of marriage being between a man and a woman.

“Maybe you should tell that to the women who fought for the right to vote and the minorities who sat in the front of the bus,” Restivo said. “Neither of the rights they were fighting for were steeped in the history of the United States.”

Just after Restivo read Bondi’s appeal brief, news broke that California mass-murderer Charles Manson, 80, who masterminded the slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six other people in 1969, became engaged to a 26-year-old woman.

“What I’m upset is about is that they just gave Charles Manson a marriage license,” Restivo said. “I want to know why they can give Charles Manson a marriage license and my clients can’t.”

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