Florida Officials Appeal Ruling That Declared Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional
Marriage equality proponents urged state officials to leave the ruling unchallenged in hopes that same-sex couples would be able to marry as soon as this month.
State officials in Florida filed appeals Thursday to a federal court ruling that found the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples unconstitutional.
LGBT advocates and marriage equality proponents had urged Republican Gov. Rick Scott to leave the Aug. 21 ruling unopposed in court. With no appeal in the cases, Brenner v. Scott and Grimsley v. Scott, advocates had hoped same-sex couples would be able to marry in the state as soon as later this month.
Attorneys at the ACLU of Florida, which brought one of the cases to court condemned Scott's ultimate decision to appeal the ruling, saying continuing to bar same-sex couples from marrying harms families.
"[Gov. Scott] has the power to end this now, yet he has chosen to perpetuate the second-class status of lesbian and gay couples," said ACLU of Florida staff attorney Daniel Tilley. "State officials are only delaying the day when all Florida families are given the respect, dignity and responsibility that come with marriage. We will not rest until the marriages of all of Florida's loving couples are recognized."
The appeals were filed in court by Attorney General Pam Bondi, who represents two state officials — Craig J. Nichols, secretary of Department of Management Services, and Florida Surgeon General John H. Armstrong — in both the Brenner and Grimsely cases, as well as Washington County Clerk Craig Harold Bazzel in the Grimsely case. Bondi, too, has defended the ban, opposing legal challenges to it in cases across the state.
Earlier this week, it was unclear whether the Scott administration would direct the state officials to appeal in the cases — with the Scott campaign pointing to Bondi to take action. Specifically, when asked by BuzzFeed, Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair said that any decision to appeal the ruling would be up to Attorney General Bondi, not the governor.
"This is a constitutional matter and it's the responsibility of the Attorney General to handle cases involving Florida's constitution," Blair said. In contrast, a spokesperson for Bondi told BuzzFeed the attorney general — acting as the state's lawyer — was waiting to hear from the state agencies and Scott on whether they would appeal.
Like the ACLU of Florida, statewide LGBT rights group Equality Florida slammed Scott for the appeals.
"Make no mistake, the responsibility for today's appeal belongs to Gov. Scott," said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director at Equality Florida, in a statement. "This appeal would not be moving forward without his full support. The Governor's continued strategy of trying to hide behind the attorney general and even his own employees is a shameful display of election year cowardice. The responsibility is his and so is the remedy."
Pollitzer continued, saying, "Gov. Scott can still use the power of his office and call for an end to the these costly and hopeless appeals and allow Florida's ban on marriage equality to end this month."
Both Scott and Bondi are running for reelection this Nov. 4.
Scott has avoided taking a stance on same-sex couples marrying in his state. "Governor Scott respects the many views people have on this issue," Blair said. "However, in 2008, voters decided on a traditional definition of marriage – an effort led by Charlie Crist. These cases are making their way through the court system and the governor will watch to see what happens."
Scott's opponent, former-governor Charlie Crist, issued an open letter late last month, calling on Scott to drop opposition to the case and abstain from appealing. Crist faced a similar situation when he was governor in 2010, when the state's ban on adoption for same-sex parents was found unconstitutional. Crist, however, directed state agencies involved in the case to not appeal the decision, leaving the law overturned.
In his ruling the state's marriage ban is unconstitutional in the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a stay on his order, meaning same-sex couples remain unable to legally marry in the state.