BY STEVE ROTHAUS
Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office announced Tuesday that it will defend the state’s gay marriage ban in separate lawsuits filed in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Allen Winsor, the state’s solicitor general, states in the motions filed in local courts that Florida has a legitimate interest in intervening in the cases since they represent a challenge to the 2008 state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage.
Bondi is already defending the state in a federal lawsuit filed in north Florida. That legal challenge maintains the state is discriminating against gay couples by not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal.
Conservative activists hailed Bondi’s response to the federal lawsuit, but had been critical of her for not defending the state right-to-marry cases.
John Stemberger, president of the conservative Florida Family Action in Orlando, praised Bondi. “The most important thing is that if the judge were to grant a motion and find a new-found right to marry, which does not exist, then the attorney general would be in a position to enjoin that until the federal case plays out,” he said Tuesday.
Elizabeth Schwartz, an attorney in the Miami-Dade case of six same-sex couples who have sued to marry, said Bondi should be defending the rights of same-sex couples.
“It’s also her job to make sure that citizens of her state are not discriminated against. And courts throughout the country have resoundingly found that the ban against marriage equality discriminates against gay and lesbian people,” she said.
In January, Equality Florida Foundation and the six couples sued Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin to issue them marriage licenses.
The clerk’s office has not vigorously defended the case. “We filed our affidavits. What we’re contending is the marriage license bureau is purely ministerial,” Ruvin said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re prepared to follow any directive of the court.”
Two Key West men later sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin for a marriage license. Heavilin also is not actively defending the state’s gay marriage ban.
“Monroe County is not taking any position, which says a lot in itself,” said attorney Elena Vigil-Farinas, who co-represents plaintiffs Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones. “The issue is the right to be treated like everyone else. We’re not asking for special privileges. We’re asking for equal privileges.”
Each case returns to court in early July and both sets of plaintiffs are seeking to immediately be allowed to marry.
Florida’s gay marriage ban was approved in 2008 when almost 62 percent of voters amended the state Constitution to ban gay marriage, along with recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and domestic partnerships.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.