Gay marriage divided Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday as they narrowly approved joining the court fight for same-sex unions.
In a 7-5 vote, commissioners passed a resolution instructing county lawyers to file a court brief supporting same-sex couples who are so far winning in their effort to be married in Florida. The issue brought out organized opposition from Miami’s Christian Family Coalition and a string of speakers citing both scripture and Miami-Dade’s support of a 2008 Florida ballot measure banning gay marriage.
“This resolution is disrespecting my vote,” Kendall resident Joe Davila told commissioners. James Pacley, pastor of the New Born Faith Deliverance in Miami, added: “We got here not by two men getting married. We got here thanks to a man and a woman.”
Nobody in the audience spoke in favor of the measure. Largely symbolic, the vote proved more divisive than when, in December, the commission approved new protections for transgender people. That ordinance passed 8-3, with commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Juan C. Zapata voting against. The same three voted against the gay-marriage measure Tuesday, and were joined by Rebeca Sosa and Commission Chairman Jean Monestime.
“I do support visitation rights, inheritance rights, property rights, and, in some cases, even adoption I would support,” Monestime said of same-sex couples. “But when it comes to marriage … according to my belief, that has a lot to do with procreation. … I think, truly, this is a matter of conscience.”
Audrey Edmonson, the sponsor, argued that Miami-Dade needed to take a stand on the issue. “This is what’s right. And I’m a Christian,” she said to snickers from the audience. “I don’t think this has anything to do with whether you’re a good Christian or a bad Christian.”
Joining Edmonson in voting yes for the measure were commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Daniella Levine Cava, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Dennis Moss and Xavier Suarez. Commissioner Javier Souto was not present for the vote.
Florida’s first same-sex wedding occurred Jan. 5 in Miami on the heels of a federal judge overturning state laws limiting marriage to straight couples. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on same-sex marriage last week in cases out of Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky that could ultimately resolve the issue nationwide.
Sosa said she was voting against the resolution because of her opposition to one government trying to tell the other what to do. The resolution calls for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to withdraw her appeals of rulings that are allowing gay marriages in the state. “I don’t believe the state should mingle in county issues,” Sosa said, citing a recent push in Tallahassee to rewrite the rules for a Miami-Dade transportation board. “I cannot support what is in front of us today.”
Tuesday’s debate captured the hard lines that exist locally in the gay-marriage debate, even as polls show a majority of Americans now endorse same-sex unions. In 2008, the state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman won a 57 percent majority on Election Day in Miami-Dade.
“We voted. Now I know that fads change. I know it’s hip and cool now to embrace certain issues,” Bovo said. “The reality is no matter what man says, no matter what a court says, marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s the way it was designed.”
A federal judge last summer ruled that the 2008 amendment violated the rights of same-sex couples. That decision was suspended to allow for appeals. But when the U.S. Supreme Court opted not to intervene, a Miami-Dade judge was the first to declare gay marriages legal on Jan. 5 (they were allowed statewide the next day).
“Making sure someone has the right to follow their heart is something we should not take away,” Jordan said Tuesday before voting for the gay-marriage measure. “It’s more than about religion. It’s more about how I feel personally. It’s a right.”