BY MICHAEL PUTNEY
It was a moment of stark contrasts the other day at the Dade County Courthouse: gay vs. straight, well-to-do vs. working class, secular humanists vs. evangelicals, gay lovers vs. homophobes.
What brought them together physically and separated them philosophically was gay marriage. More than 200 people — hard-core supporters and opponents of gay marriage — tried to jam into historic old Courtroom 6-1, where Judge Sarah Zabel was to hold a hearing. So many spectators they had to open an adjacent courtroom outfitted with a large TV. It was there that the anti-gay-marriage group, wearing Respect My Vote signs, broke into Amazing Grace. They were answered by the pro-gay-marriage group, which began chanting, “Marriage equality, marriage equality.” Police moved in to defuse the demonstration, but the passions on this issue will not soon be quelled.
The tide is running fast in favor of same-sex marriage. It has been since the Supreme Court last year struck down key provisions of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. The court said the federal government must recognize all legally performed marriages of same-sex couples. Since that ruling, some 23 courts have struck down state bans as unconstitutional.
The judges — of all political stripes and persuasions — have ruled the bans violate the Constitution’s equal-protection and due-process clauses. And those guarantees trump voter-approved bans.
In half a dozen states, the attorneys general chose not to defend the bans in court because they saw the handwriting on the wall (and the court orders) and concluded they’d lose. In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi sat on the sidelines for several months, but finally announced a few weeks before the Miami-Dade hearing that she would defend Florida’s ban. In her court filings, Bondi said that, “Disrupting Florida’s existing marriage laws would impose significant public harm.” She failed to say exactly what the harm would be because there would be none. Still, Bondi’s arguments got a big thumbs-up from groups such as the Christian Family Coalition of Miami, which praised Bondi for being “on the right side of history.”
But she’s not.
Bondi is defending the indefensible. Yes, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2008 that said marriage can only be between “one man and one woman.” As if multiple partners would somehow be involved.
But there’s been a seismic shift in public opinion on gay marriage since that constitutional amendment was approved.
I voted against it, but at the time thought that legal recognition of civil unions was adequate to protect the rights of gay and lesbian couples. I was wrong and in time came to see that banning same-sex marriage is profoundly unfair. Also un-American. If two people of the same sex love each other and choose to put their lives together as a married couple, why should the state prevent it? As Pope Francis said of homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?”
The judgmental should have a serious talk with the six same-sex couples who are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit before Judge Zabel. These are thoughtful, accomplished men and women who have made loving, lifetime commitments to each other and want their unions to be recognized by the state and to enjoy the benefits flowing from that. The plaintiffs were chosen well, the perfect poster couples for gay marriage. Most of have been together for many years; several are raising adopted children. As their attorneys noted in oral arguments, if the state recognizes their legal right and ability to adopt and raise children, then the state should also recognize their right to wed.
Judge Zabel should rule in their favor. Her questions in court indicated that she has read all the previous court decisions on this issue. I don’t see how she can allow Florida’s ban to stand. And if she does, then the Third District Court of Appeal will strike it down.
Perhaps that’s why the people who support the state’s same-sex marriage ban seem so desperate, so angry, so hurt. Listening and talking to them in the courthouse before the hearing and outside afterward, it’s clear that they see same-sex marriage as deeply offensive. Unnatural. Un-Godly. And an affront to their own marriages. It is their right, of course, to think so.
They also have a right to question why a judge can set aside a referendum approved by 62 percent of Floridians. But majority rule is not always constitutional rule. The question Florida voters were asked in 2008 simply violates some basic tenets of American life and jurisprudence: that all people must be treated equally under the law and receive due process. Gays and lesbians have been denied both in Florida when they tried to get married.
Judge Zabel can remedy that, and here’s hoping she will — and that the Third DCA upholds her along with the Florida Supreme Court.
The question truly is no longer about gay marriage. It’s about marriage equality.