Furor toward Attorney General Pam Bondi over gay marriage court filing may be misplaced

Part of state Attorney General Pam Bondi’s filing went viral.
Part of state Attorney General Pam Bondi’s filing went viral.
Published May 31, 2014

In her response to a lawsuit that alleges Florida discriminates against gay couples by not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal, Attorney General Pam Bondi wrote something that has suddenly gotten lots of attention.

The document — which was filed May 12 but was largely overlooked until Friday — included this sentence: "The Court should also deny the preliminary injunction motions because there is no likelihood of success on the merits, there is no immediacy requiring a preliminary injunction and disrupting Florida's existing marriage laws would impose significant public harm."

That last part — about imposing harm — went viral Friday.

Several media outlets interpreted that in severe terms, and suddenly headlines such as these popped up on Twitter: "AG Pam Bondi: Recognizing gay marriage in other states would harm Fla." and "Pam Bondi: Gay Marriage Would Cause Harm."

Equality Florida posted on its website an image of Bondi's disembodied head. Against a blood-red background, her mouth was open and her eyes were angry. Four bold, black words were pasted across her forehead: "GAY MARRIAGE CAUSES HARM."

Social media communities were in a furor.

But Bondi's office said that wording — "gay marriage causes harm" — is taking her words out of context.

"Florida is harmed whenever a federal court enjoins enforcement of its laws, including the laws at issue here," solicitor general Allen Winsor said in a statement Friday. "Florida's voters approved a constitutional amendment, which is being challenged, and it is the attorney general's duty to defend Florida law."

Like Winsor's statement, Bondi's filing focused on a statewide vote in 2008 that created a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Florida. That, she wrote, is the key issue.

"This case is not about which policy choice is better or worse. And this case is not about whether the debate should continue (which it surely will)," the court document said. "This case is about whether states can make their own determinations. If the ongoing debate leads Florida's citizens to change their policy — as several states recently have — they may do so."

In a statement on the matter earlier this week, not even the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida — which filed the lawsuit on behalf of eight same-sex Florida couples — made mention of Bondi's reference to "significant public harm."

But on Friday, the reality of what the attorney general actually said or meant did little to curb the indignation.

"Today, Pam Bondi once again showed she has a very different view," a political opponent, state Rep. Perry Thurston, said in a statement. "Her claim that it will 'impose significant public harm' is an affront to millions of Floridians."

Lost in the uproar was another statement, buried deeper in the response, that sounded more potentially inflammatory. In a section on marriage's historical definition, Bondi seemed to argue that unions between men and women produce more favorable environments for children.

"The promotion of family continuity and stability is a legitimate state interest," she wrote. "Florida's marriage laws, then, 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."