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Fla. AG seeks to defend same-sex marriage ban in two additional lawsuits

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose strong defense of the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in federal court has already prompted sharp criticism, is moving to defend the ban in two other lawsuits pending in state courts.

Bondi’s office on Tuesday filed motions to intervene in lawsuits that had been filed by gay couples in Miami-Dade and Monroe circuit courts.

Attorney General Pam Bondi (R-Fla.)AP

Attorney General Pam Bondi (R-Fla.)

Allen Winsor, the state’s solicitor general, states in the motions that Florida has a legitimate interest in intervening in the cases since both challenge the 2008 constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage.

Bondi is already defending the state against a federal lawsuit filed in north Florida that maintains the ban discriminates against gay couples by not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal.

Bondi’s recent court filing in the federal lawsuit triggered a firestorm because her office contended that overturning the existing ban would disrupt Florida’s existing marriage laws and “impose significant public harm.”

The backlash prompted Bondi to issue a lengthy statement in which she maintained she had a duty to defend the amendment, which passed by a wide margin six years ago.

“Anything less than the best defense of our voters’ policy preferences would disenfranchise the electorate, undermine the judicial process, and cast aside the professional responsibility that guides me every day as Attorney General,” she said.

One of the two lawsuits filed in state courts was filed in January on behalf of six gay couples by Equality Florida Institute Inc., a civil rights organization that works for fairness for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The lawsuit claims Florida’s gay marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

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Nadine Smith, co-founder of Equality Florida, questioned Bondi’s decision to “pour more dollars into a defense of the indefensible.”

“It’s disappointing at a time when attorneys general and governors across the country have come to the logical conclusion that the bans are legally indefensible,” Smith said.

Judges have struck down gay marriage bans as discriminatory in other states, and the U.S. Supreme Court last year issued a decision invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In 2010, gays in Florida won a key legal victory when the state declined to appeal a decision striking down a decades-old ban on adoptions by gay couples.

The two lawsuists are Pareto v. Ruvin (Miami-Dade) and Huntsman v. Heavilin (Monroe).

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