New argument to fight gay-marriage ban

Social conservative groups say their rights would be violated if judge struck down law approved by Florida voters in 2008

Miami HeraldFebruary 15, 2014 

With Florida's gay-marriage ban threatened in Miami court, social conservatives launched a counteroffensive Friday, accusing same-sex union proponents of opposing civil rights.

The new argument from the Christian Family Coalition and other groups adopts the very talking points of gay-marriage backers, who sued last month to strike down Florida's ban as a violation of constitutional rights guaranteeing equal treatment.

But the supporters of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment say the rights of Floridians would be violated if a judge struck down the law because it was approved by voters, 62 percent of them, in 2008.

The press conference came a day after a federal judge made Virginia the latest state where a gay-marriage ban was struck down.

Florida's gay-marriage opponents said Florida's law should be fought not in court but at the ballot box, and they repeatedly singled out the Miami-Dade judge hearing the case.

"Will Judge Sarah Zabel do to our voting rights what Bull Connor did to our civil rights?" the Rev Nathaniel J. Wilcox, an African-American leader of a group called People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality, said in comparing the judge overhearing the case to the infamous Birmingham police commissioner who supported segregation.

"The blood of the martyrs cries out for justice," Wilcox said. "This lawsuit is hardly about the institution of marriage as much as it is about the constitutional right to vote and having our votes counted and protected."

Attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, who represents six same-sex couples suing to overturn the gay-marriage ban, said they won't withdraw their lawsuit.

"This is what courts are for: righting wrongs, doing justice, protecting minorities from bullying, which is

exactly what this is -- bullying," Schwartz said.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office is in charge of defending state laws in court, has not responded to the suit, which names as its defendant Miami-Dade Court Clerk Harvey Ruvin, who denied marriage licenses to the plaintiffs

When the suit was filed in January, Bondi said through a spokeswoman she would defend the suit if asked.

On Friday, when asked if the organization would urge Bondi to enter the case, the Christian Family Coalition's executive director, Anthony Verdugo, said she should defend the amendment in court.

He said the press conference was intentionally held on Valentine's Day because it marked the ninth anniversary of the start of the long petition drive that led to Florida's amendment banning gay marriage.

Verdugo also noted that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings concerning homosexuality did not establish that gay marriage was a right. And he dismissed the string of court rulings finding in favor of gay marriage.

"The violation of civil rights in one state does not justify the violation of civil rights in another state," Verdugo said.

However, in a dissent to the court's June decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the ruling constituted "legalistic argle-bargle" because it would be used to help legalize same-sex unions.

"It takes real cheek for today's majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here -- when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority's moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress's hateful moral judgment against it," Scalia wrote.

Since then, a Virginia federal judge ruled Thursday and a Kentucky federal judge ruled this week in favor of gay marriage. Previously, federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma have upheld some gay-marriage rights.

In Miami-Dade's case, Schwartz said the plaintiffs filed in circuit court, rather than federal court, because she thought a state judge should rule on a state case that will ultimately head to the Florida Supreme Court. She noted state judges in New Mexico and New Jersey have overturned gay marriage bans in those states.

Schwartz said courts have ruled against gay-marriage bans because they're unconstitutional on their face and that same-sex unions don't hurt people or society.

"If you have an issue with gay people being married," she said, "then don't marry a gay person."

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