A federal judge's sweeping ruling last week that would allow same-sex couples throughout Florida to marry should send a clear signal to Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. They are on the wrong side of this issue, and they should stop wasting public money defending indefensible discrimination. There is no need to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to act. The state should not appeal, the federal judge's stay should be lifted and all Floridians who want to marry should be treated equally.
In an unequivocal, plainly written ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle cleared the way Thursday for same-sex couples statewide to marry and banned the state from denying benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in other states. This is the first federal court ruling in Florida on same-sex marriage, and it follows four similar rulings in state courts in South Florida. All of those decisions also are on hold as the state continues to defend a 2008 amendment to the Florida Constitution that bans same-sex marriage. Bondi has shifted positions and wants to maintain the status quo until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue, but that lets her avoid the tough decisions about pursuing appeals or siding with reason and fairness. It also forces same-sex couples in Florida to continue an unnecessary wait for justice.
As Hinkle wrote in his 33-page decision, "When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination.''
Like other judges, he made the point that the institution of marriage will survive and that heterosexual marriages are not threatened by allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Now 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, and Florida should join them. To maintain the ban puts this state at a competitive disadvantage in attracting jobs and sends a signal that Floridians are intolerant. That is not the message that should be sent from a state that should pride itself on its diversity.
"To paraphrase a civil rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was struck down,'' Hinkle wrote, "the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."
It's time that Florida's governor and attorney general recognize that arc. They should embrace tolerance and fairness rather than intolerance and discrimination that will not stand.