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Charlie Crist snags LGBT endorsements, calls out AG Pam Bondi for 'waste' in defending gay marriage ban

@SteveRothaus with @MarcACaputo

The largest gay-rights groups in Florida and the nation endorsed Democrat Charlie Crist on Thursday, a turnaround for the former Republican governor who once helped enshrine a same-sex marriage ban in the state's constitution.

In accepting the support of Equality Florida Action PAC and the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, Crist pledged to pressure Florida's Republican attorney general, Pam Bondi, to stop fighting a lawsuit seeking to overturn the same-sex marriage ban voters approved in 2008 by 62 percent.

"I think it’s important to be able to use the influence of the office of governor in a positive effective way,” Crist said, “and encourage the attorney general, number 1, to get rid of these lawsuits – I think it’s a waste of time.”

“Number 2,” Crist said, “there’s a bully pulpit that comes with the office of governor. And I think you can appeal to the people of Florida to maybe call the attorney general and ask her to get rid of these lawsuits and let individuals in the state of Florida live their lives and keep your nose out of their private life."

The endorsements were particularly tough for Democrat Nan Rich, a former state Senate Democratic leader who fought for LGBT rights -- even when Crist opposed them. Rich is trailing Crist and Scott in the polls.

"I believe the best indicator of what someone will do is what they have done," Rich said in a written statement. "Regardless of who endorsed him today, when he was the Republican Governor of Florida Charlie Crist did not support issues important to the LGBT community. Crist opposed adoptions by same sex couples, and he signed the petition to put marriage discrimination on the ballot and was proud to say he voted for it."

Equality Florida says Crist has otherwise been a longtime LGBT-rights advocate. While governor, he dropped his support for Florida’s gay adoption ban and worked with the state Department of Children and Families to stop enforcement. During his Senate campaign, Crist supported repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and passage of a law that would prevent LGBT-related workplace discrimination.

“Charlie Crist’s position on marriage equality reflects the evolution of Florida voters,” said Stratton Pollitzer, chair of the Equality Florida PAC.

“The clear majority now supports full legal recognition of marriage equality, and that support is growing rapidly regardless of political party, age or religious identification.”

Some activists who supported Rich sounded disappointed.

“I’m going to continue to support Nan,” Broward LGBT/HIV activist Michael Emanuel Rajner said Thursday. “I trust Equality Florida is doing the best for the community to advance rights, legislation, protections. Unfortunately elections are not always what we would want them to be.”

Like other top Democrats, LGBT advocates endorsed Crist because they felt he has the best chance of beating Scott.

“We are honored to stand with Charlie Crist in his campaign to be the next governor of Florida,” said HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse. “Governor Crist will work to improve the lives of all Florida families – including LGBT families – and for that he has our gratitude and our support.”

In addition to shifting his stances, Crist’s party affiliations have switched over time. As governor, he became an independent in 2010 before he was going to lose a GOP U.S. Senate primary. But he lost in the general election anyway.

In 2012, Crist helped President Obama win re-election in Florida and soon after became a Democrat.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a year ago that the federal government must recognize legal same-sex marriages, Scott said he would continue to support Florida’s 2008 constitutional ban.

“Look, it’s the law of the land. Voters in 2008 decided we’re going to be a traditional marriage state,” Scott told the Tampa Bay Times. “Look, I’ve been married since I was 19. I believe in traditional marriage.”

Florida's attorney general, Bondi, has appeared far more-conflicted about the gay-marriage ban.
In defending a lawsuit to undo the ban, her office filed a court brief that said "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."

After she was criticized by liberals, libertarians and LGBT activists, Bondi said she was really talking about defending the will of voters.

"I take exception to those who have sought to manipulate our brief, trying to make it something it is not," she said in a statement. "The brief does not argue for or against same sex marriage as a matter of policy, wisdom, or fairness. Those decisions are for the voters of each state, not for lawyers or courts. It is my duty to protect Florida from the 'harm' of a federal injunction overriding the will of Florida voters."

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