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Editorial: Florida should stop defending ban on gay marriage

EVE EDELHEIT | Times
A federal appeals court in Atlanta refused to extend a ban on gay marriage in Florida. Attorney General Pam Bondi should quit wasting Florida’s money and tarnishing its reputation by continuing to stand in the way.

A federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled on the right side of history by refusing to extend a ban on gay marriage in Florida. The ruling upholds the dignity of every human being regardless of sexual orientation, and it protects the American right to privacy by limiting the government's reach into everyday life. Attorney General Pam Bondi should embrace these same solid values and quit wasting Florida's money and tarnishing its reputation by continuing to stand in the way.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta was on the narrow issue of whether to extend a stay of a federal district court judge's decision that Florida's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. In a plainly worded ruling in August, District Judge Robert L. Hinkle wrote that the state Constitution's ban that Florida voters approved in 2008 is "an obvious pretext for discrimination." Yet Hinkle stayed his decision until Jan. 5 to give Bondi time to appeal, and the appellate court this week declined to extend the stay beyond that date.

The ruling clears the way for Floridians to start enjoying the rights they legally earned last summer and that now apply to most of the nation. So far this year, same-sex marriage has become legal in 18 additional states, bringing the total to 35 plus the District of Columbia. And the ruling follows same-sex marriage victories in Florida state courts. There is a wave of rulings against these bigoted laws across the country, and it is past time that the fourth-largest state stood up and recognized equal rights.

Bondi's spokeswoman said Thursday the office is reviewing the order, but it is time to let this go. The state should have heeded the federal court's call for justice — not challenged it, which only drags out the day until committed couples can get on with their lives. A further appeal of Hinkle's stay would have the warped effect of making the winners in this legal battle the losers. That's gone on long enough.

There is no reason to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court, as Bondi has proposed. It remains unclear whether the Supreme Court will act, although it has sent conflicting signals. Louisiana this week became the fifth party to ask the high court to resolve "a spiraling national controversy that has already nullified the marriage laws of over 20 states."

There is no legal or principled reason for Bondi to put Florida couples on hold until the courts settle the issue. It's fantasy to think the courts or even the American public is evenly split on the question. Of the 60 court rulings since last year, when the Supreme Court invalidated part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex activists have won all but four, according to the count by a leading advocacy group. Opinion polls show that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, while the number of those opposed continues to decline.

Bondi should drop the state's appeal and allow Floridians to get on with their lives. The new year should bring a new opportunity for gay couples to enjoy the full freedoms to which all Americans are entitled.