Sunday, February 25, 2018
Politics

Sue Carlton: Pam Bondi fumbles on gay marriage

The words inside court documents defending Florida's ban on gay marriage — words that caught political fire last week — should have surprised no one. But they did.

Arguing against a lawsuit that says Florida discriminates by not recognizing gay marriages from other states, Attorney General Pam Bondi's office wrote: … disrupting Florida's existing marriage laws would impose significant public harm.

Which sure sounds like: Changing the law to allow gay marriage would hurt Florida.

And this eyebrow-raising passage: Florida's marriage laws … have a close, direct and rational relationship to society's legitimate interest in increasing the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by the mothers and fathers who produced them in stable and enduring family units.

Which, once you untangle the legalese, seems to suggest it takes a man and a woman to make a stable family.

So yes, fallout was understandable. Bondi has enjoyed enormous hometown support — affection, even — particularly from the legal community where she was a longtime Tampa prosecutor. Though she did not seem particularly political to many here then, reaction to her conservative stances once she got to Tallahassee has often been: Oh, that's politics, not Pam.

Fighting Obamacare, even getting a killer's execution postponed to accommodate her own fundraiser — politics, not Pam Bondi.

Sure, there are plenty who see the world as the political Bondi does (and as does Gov. Rick Scott, with whom she is often in agreement). But this week on this issue, I hear people here sounding disappointed, even hurt.

The brief, by the way, got a perfectly logical defense from Bondi's office: As attorney general, she is obligated to defend the voters' decision in 2008 to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. True. Defending state law is in the job description.

The "harm" to Florida, her office explained, is "whenever a federal court enjoins enforcement of its laws." As the brief says, Florida should be able to decide for Florida. The child-rearing reference has to do with "court rulings" and is not a reflection of Bondi's beliefs or a statement on "anyone's parenting ability," a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Nadine Smith of Equality Florida called all this an attempt to "walk back inflammatory portions of her brief by pretending they don't exist."

I note for the record that attorneys general in some other states said they would no longer defend laws denying gay couples the right to marry. And that a recent Quinnipiac poll showed a majority of Florida voters are okay with same-sex marriage.

I'm no lawyer, but might it be possible to make a vigorous legal argument that states should be allowed to make their own determinations without seeming to condemn gay people in the process, particularly if that's not your intention?

I asked Bondi's office about her position on gay marriage — she is running for re-election. They declined to comment, since she's in this lawsuit. But back when she was running for office in 2010 and talking about gay adoption, she spoke of Tampa friends who had adopted and were in "a loving, committed, same-sex relationship." I guess the same kind she says she's now compelled to argue against becoming a loving, committed, legal one in Florida.

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