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Crist support for gay marriage part of long trend

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Published:   |   Updated: May 11, 2013 at 01:08 PM
TAMPA -

Former Gov. Charlie Crist announced this week that he supports allowing same-sex marriage in Florida, the latest in a trend toward pro-gay-rights stances by Crist during his political career.

That aligns Crist, a former Republican, with the other Democrats generally perceived as the party's potential candidates for governor: Sen. Bill Nelson, former state Sen. Nan Rich and former state finance chief Alex Sink of Tampa.

Nelson, formerly opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples, recently announced he has changed his position and supports it.

Rich, who's running, and Sink, who's considering running, both said they're long-time supporters of same-sex marriage rights and both questioned the sincerity of Crist's changing views.

Crist, however, said he believes the stance is “the right thing to do.” He said he has felt that way for some time.

The shift came shortly before Crist's scheduled appearance tonight as keynote speaker at a joint fundraising dinner held by the Hillsborough and Pinellas County offices of the Democratic Party. It's the main annual fundraising event for the two biggest Democratic Party organizations in Crist's Tampa-St. Petersburg home turf.

There has been speculation Crist would choose that politically important forum to announce his candidacy for governor, but he said that won't happen.

Crist has moved toward support for gay rights since his 2006 campaign for governor, but his changing stances and occasional conflicting statements have led political opponents to accuse him of tailoring his views to political circumstances.

Here is a timeline:

2006: Crist, then attorney general, faced Tom Gallagher in a Republican primary for governor. Both had moderate histories on social issues and battled for the support of social conservatives.

Crist initially said he was undecided about Florida's ban on adoption by gay couples and hadn't considered it fully, even though as attorney general, his office had been involved in litigation on the issue.

Later he said he supported the ban, and accused his general election opponent, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, of being “opposed to traditional families” for opposing the ban.

Crist also signed a petition for a state constitutional amendment to limit marriage to male-female couples.

2007: As governor, Crist said he still supported the anti-gay-marriage amendment, but prevented the state Republican Party from giving money to the amendment campaign. It passed in 2008.

2010: Crist left the Republican Party in the face of a challenge from Marco Rubio in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, becoming a no-party candidate. He later issued a campaign position paper taking pro-gay-rights stances on adoption by same-sex couples, on the military's “don't ask don't tell” policy and on civil unions.

He opposed a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but said states should decide the question.

December 2012: As he switched to the Democratic Party, Crist told reporters he regretted having signed the anti-gay-marriage amendment petition.

Late Wednesday night, Crist posted a statement on his Facebook page:

“Some great news: On Tuesday, Delaware became the 11th state to allow marriage equality. And just a few days ago, Rhode Island adopted a similar measure, which followed victories last fall in Maine, Maryland and Washington. I most certainly support marriage equality in Florida and look forward to the day it happens here.”

In a brief interview, Crist said he has favored marriage equality since at least December, “but not being in office or running, nobody has asked.”

He said he decided to go public with his view after a conversation with Joe Falk, a Miami mortgage banker who's active on gay-rights issues.

Falk, he said, presented arguments to him on the issue, “and I said, Joe, I'm already with you on this.”

Sink, who said she's “in a fact-gathering phase” in her consideration of a run for governor, said Democrats should scrutinize Crist's changed positions on issues including gay rights and abortion.

“All of us who are lifelong Democrats are interested in understanding what his evolution on these issues is,” Sink said. “There are a number of issues that are core to Democrats on which Charlie Crist hasn't been on our side.”

Rich spoke more sharply.

“We can only hope that he maintains this politically comfortable position from now on,” she said.

Nadine Smith of Equality Florida, the state's leading gay rights group, said advocates have been urging Crist to take the stand.

“I know he's been getting pressure from within the Democratic Party to speak up,” Smith said. “This is a moment at which people want to hear from him on a range of issues including this one.”


wmarch@tampatrib.com

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