Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked a state appeals court to delay two cases where judges overturned the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples until the United States Supreme Court decides on the issue.
In filings late Thursday in Florida's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, Bondi said that resolving the issue of marriage for same-sex couples is "unquestionably an important issue," but that "... neither this Court nor the Florida Supreme Court can decide this federal issue with finality."
"The State of Florida will respect the United States Supreme Court's final word," Bondi said in the filing. "In the meantime, this Court should preserve taxpayer and judicial resources by staying briefing until the United States Supreme Court rules." In other words, Florida courts should wait until the high court issues a national ruling.
Bondi pointed to recent requests by state officials in Utah and Oklahoma asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review challenges to the states' respective bans.
Additionally, in one of the filings, Bondi agreed with the plaintiffs' motion to consolidate the two cases. Florida's 2008 voter-approved ban on marriage for same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional in two cases — State of Florida v. Pareto and State of Florida v. Huntsman — by judges in Monroe County and Miami-Dade County, respectively. Bondi did not respond to two other rulings against the state ban in Broward and Palm Beach counties, but a spokeswoman for the AG previously told BuzzFeed her office is reviewing the rulings.
Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights and part of the legal team in the Pareto case, told BuzzFeed in a statement there is "no legal basis" for the stay Bondi has requested and that the NCLR will be filing a brief asking the court to deny the motion.
"Florida's marriage ban is causing serious harms to the plaintiffs and other same-sex couples," Minter said in the statement. "They have filed a lawsuit asking the state courts to rule on the constitutionality of the ban, and the courts have a duty to fulfill their judicial role and decide the issues before them. The possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court may one day resolve this issue for the entire country in no way eliminates the urgency of this issue for the plaintiffs or the obligation of Florida's courts to rule on the constitutionality of Florida's own laws."
Statewide LGBT rights group Equality Florida, too, opposes Bondi's move, saying in a statement, "This is a clear attempt to delay resolution on an issue the majority of Floridians support."
"There is no certainty when or even if the Supreme Court will take a marriage case, and while AG Bondi delays, thousands of Florida families are denied the security and protections that come with the freedom to marry," the organization said. "We agree on one thing: Bondi should stop wasting taxpayer dollars by ignoring the fundamental rights of all Americans. She could speed up this process by ending her appeal or urging the Florida Supreme Court to take the matter up right away."
In total, four state judges have ruled against the state's laws prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples and its refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states in just the last three weeks, but because the rulings were stayed pending appeal or narrowly applied to particular plaintiffs, same-sex couples have yet to marry there. And there are other cases challenging the ban still pending, such one before a U.S. federal district court in Florida led by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Daniel Tilley, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida, told BuzzFeed he is anticipating a ruling in the case any day now. Tilley described the rapidly developing marriage equality landscape in the state as a "tidal wave of victories" in cases brought by advocacy organizations and people who he said face the harms of not being able to marry.
"These suits in Florida give a good cross section of the issues that arise when people are denied the freedom to marry," Tilley said. "You have the divorce case, the folks that are trying to get married, recognition for spousal benefits, and people who need marriage so that they can properly care for their children, and so the final wishes of their spouses are realized."
Florida's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to respond to Bondi's filings.
h/t: Miami Herald