Saturday, January 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Big step toward marriage equality

Florida is a significant step closer to treating all loving couples equally. A Monroe County circuit judge's decision Thursday to overturn the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage is a milestone victory for equality and fairness. Now the appellate courts should move quickly to affirm the decision so it can apply statewide, and Attorney General Pam Bondi should not keep standing in the way.

The ruling by Circuit Judge Luis Garcia was predictable and applies only to Monroe County. But it follows nearly two dozen similar decisions in state and federal courts nationwide since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court found portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Same-sex couples can marry legally now in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and Florida should join them as soon as possible.

Bondi argued that the gay marriage ban in the Florida Constitution should be upheld because it was approved by voters in 2008, and she contended only the state can define marriage. But Garcia rejected that discredited argument and echoed the opinions of other judges around the country that the same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection and due process clauses.

This is an issue of equality and fundamental fairness. As the judge noted, same-sex couples do not enjoy the same advantages as married couples because their relationship is not recognized by Florida law. He wrote that same-sex couples have a harder time making health care decisions for the other spouse, do not have the same rights to equitable distribution of property if they break up, and lose many other state and federal benefits of being legally married.

Garcia appropriately compared overturning the ban on same-sex marriage to other instances in which federal constitutional guarantees allowed interracial marriages and black children access to all-white public schools.

"The court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage,'' he wrote, "but it is our country's proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and the rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority.''

Public opinion has been evolving quickly since voters approved the same-sex marriage ban in the state Constitution nearly six years ago. While the same conservative groups that promoted that constitutional amendment reacted with predictable hyperbole to Thursday's court decision, more Floridians are recognizing the unfairness of treating committed couples unequally because of their gender. There also is a broader acknowledgement that embracing such discrimination is bad for the state's image and its economy. Modern Florida is a melting pot that has become more inclusive and accepting, less fearful of change and more tolerant of those with different skin colors, languages or sexual orientation.

Thursday's ruling was an important landmark, and it is in step with other court rulings throughout the nation and with quickly changing public opinion. The next step is for the appellate courts to affirm the decision so that same-sex couples throughout Florida enjoy the same right to marry as others.

It would be helpful if the state attorney general finally recognized that federal constitutional protections apply to all regardless of sexual orientation and helped make this process a smooth one.

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Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18