Pam Bondi Urged to Direct State Agencies to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

With clerks handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples today all across the state, Attorney General Pam Bondi -- who has spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep the same-sex marriage ban in Florida intact -- has come out with a lukewarm endorsement of the overturning of the ban.

"The judge has ruled, and we wish these couples the best,'' Bondi's office said in a statement Monday.

The statement was given by a Bondi spokesman and not by Bondi herself.

And that isn't enough for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has sent a letter to Bondi, calling on her to direct all state agencies to immediately recognize all married couples.

See also: Gay Marriage Begins in Florida

Bondi has spent the bulk of 2014 appealing judges' rulings that the same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. She requested extensions from both the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court to try to keep LGBT couples from being legally wed in Florida. She even opposed a same-sex couple's request for a divorce.

Anytime a judgment was made that the Florida same-sex ban of 2008 was unconstitutional, Bondi was there to appeal and hold things back. Again, and again, and again.

She attributed her efforts to keeping to the letter of the law. Her reasoning was that there was no reason to burden taxpayers and the courts with the issue. Yet Bondi also wrote that she thought same-sex marriage was a detriment to society.

In June, she argued against the six gay and lesbian couples who sued the state for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

In a news release opposing the lawsuit, she wrote, "Disrupting Florida's existing marriage laws would impose significant public harm."

Bondi added, "Florida's marriage laws 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."

But with Judge Robert Hinkle's stay expiring at midnight Tuesday and the flood of couples lining up at court houses to get married, Bondi was left to do nothing more than release a statement through her office.

The NCLR, along with Equality Florida, just isn't satisfied with that.

Legally speaking, the NCLR says that while clerks throughout the state are issuing licenses to same-sex couples, other agencies and institutions may not be in compliance. The NCLR says, for example, hospitals may not realize that they need to put the names of both same-sex parents on a birth certificate.

"We urge your office immediately to advise all state agencies of these requirements," the letter says. "We also urge you to issue a public statement making clear that, as of today, the State of Florida will recognize for all purposes the marriages of same-sex couples."

The letter references Hinkle's 33-page ruling from August 2014 in which he called the same-sex ban a denial of human dignity and compared it to a time when interracial marriage was banned in America. He also said that history will judge this to be true and that there should be no limits to liberty or tolerance.

"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," Hinkle wrote in his ruling. "To paraphrase a civil rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was struck down, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."

Here's NCLR's entire letter to Pam Bondi:

Dear Attorney General Bondi and Messrs. Tanenbaum and Fahlbusch:

As counsel for the Plaintiffs in Pareto v. Ruvin (11th Jud. Cir. Case No. 14-1661 CA 24), we write to request that your office immediately advise all state agencies in Florida that they are required under the orders issued by Judge Zabel on July 25, 2014 and January 5, 2015, and by Judge Hinkle on August 21, 2015 and January 1, 2015 in Brenner v. Scott (N.D. Fla. Case No. 4:14-cv-138-RHCAS), to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples.

The State of Florida, represented by your office, intervened as a defendant in trial court proceedings in Pareto v. Ruvin and is therefore bound by Judge Zabel's orders. Indeed, Judge Zabel's July 25, 2014 Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment ("July 25, 2014 Order") states:

The State of Florida intervened in this case approximately one week prior to hearing on the instant motion for summary judgment. The State fully participated in the argument before this Court, presenting both a written response to the motion and an oral argument. July 25, 2014 Order at 3. Furthermore, in Brenner, Judge Hinkle's August 21, 2015 order stated, on page 13, that, "[a]s the state defendants acknowledge, an order directed to the Secretary [of Public Health] . . . will be sufficient to provide complete relief."

Judge Zabel's July 25, 2014 Order declared that the prohibition on recognizing marriages of same-sex couples entered into in Florida that is contained in section 741.212, Florida Statutes, is "void and unenforceable." Id. at 34 (emphasis in original). In that same order, Judge Zabel also ruled that Article 1, section 27 of Florida's Constitution is void and unenforceable." Id. (emphasis in original).

As a result of Judge Zabel's declarations and today's order lifting the previously entered stay, all agencies of the State of Florida are immediately required to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples entered into in Florida. In addition, because of Judge Hinkle's preliminary injunction in Brenner, Florida officials must recognize the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples beginning January 6, 2015.

We urge your office immediately to advise all state agencies of these requirements. We also urge you to issue a public statement making clear that, as of today, the State of Florida will recognize for all purposes the marriages of same-sex couples. Because of urgent circumstances facing same-sex couples in Florida who are expecting babies just days from now, we particularly request that your office instruct the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics to inform health care facilities that, if a child is born to married same-sex parents, both parents are entitled to be listed on the child's birth certificate.

This is a matter of extreme urgency and constitutional imperative, and we urge your office to act expeditiously on this matter

Sincerely, Shannon Minter, Legal Director National Center for Lesbian Rights cc: Allen Windsor, Solicitor General (via email only to Nadine Smith, Executive Director, Equality Florida

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