Florida Politics

Republican leaders silent as gay marriages become legal in Florida

Florida Attorney Gen. Pam Bondi looks on during as Florida Gov. Rick Scott delivers a campaign speech Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Clearwater, Fla. Bondi is yet to comment on a Miami-Dade judge’s decision to allow gay marriages.
Florida Attorney Gen. Pam Bondi looks on during as Florida Gov. Rick Scott delivers a campaign speech Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Clearwater, Fla. Bondi is yet to comment on a Miami-Dade judge’s decision to allow gay marriages. AP

Leaders of the Florida Republican Party that supported the state’s 2008 ban on gay marriage were mostly silent Monday as throngs cheered South Florida couples given the right to wed.

As he prepared to attend inaugural festivities in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott had his office repeat a prepared statement from last week when asked about a Miami-Dade judge’s decision to allow gay marriages.

“We are working with our agencies to follow the court’s decision,” said Jeri Bustamante, a spokeswoman, in an email. Asked if the state planned to drop its appeal in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Bustamante replied that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi “is handling this.”

Bondi wouldn’t directly comment on Monday’s developments. When asked about what happens next, her spokesman, Whitney Ray, replied in an email that “the judge has ruled, and we wish these couples the best.”

A campaign spokesman, Trey Stapleton, said Bondi wasn’t available to comment. She wouldn’t be available for questions Monday night during her two-hour inaugural celebration at the exclusive Governor’s Club in Tallahassee, Stapleton said, because the event, just steps from the Capitol, was closed to the media.

Not only has Bondi staunchly defended the ban, even as other Republican attorneys general in states like South Carolina and Wisconsin dropped similar efforts, but it was her party that spent at least $300,000 in 2006 getting the ban referendum on the 2008 ballot. It passed overwhelmingly.

The silence from Florida Republican leaders was deafening.

“In 2008, I joined over 60 percent of Floridians to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman in our state constitution,” said Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, in an email reply to the Times/Herald. “I believe voters on the state level should decide this issue, and not the courts.”

House Appropriations Chair Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who becomes speaker in 2016, echoed Crisafulli.

“I believe in traditional marriage,” Corcoran said. “We definitely have a problem with a judiciary not respecting the separation of powers.”

But neither Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater nor Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, both considered possible candidates for governor in 2018, responded to requests by the Times/Herald for a reaction. Neither did Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, nor House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa.

By contrast, state Democrats were eager on Monday to share their views. In a blast email, House Minority Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach said: “I happily look forward to a new day dawning for civil rights in Florida. I’m so glad we’ll have reason to celebrate Jan. 6, 2015, as the day full marriage equality came to the Sunshine State.”

Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, challenged Bondi to drop the appeal.

“It’s time for the attorney general to just put a pin in it and say, ‘Let’s stop spending the public’s money’,’’ Joyner said. “We are in the 21st Century now and the evolution has come in 35 states and now Florida will be the 36th.”

One man holding out hope that, somehow, the ban will remain was John Stemberger, director of the Florida Family Policy Council who was chairman of the 2008 same-sex marriage amendment effort.

He predicted the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn recent rulings.

“Five million voters have been overthrown by a handful of lawyers in black robes and I think this is not the way a democracy should work,’’ he said at a press conference in Tallahassee on Monday. “Today’s not the end. Tomorrow’s not the end of this.”

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

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