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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns
COLUMN

Florida ruling next big step in marriage equality

Published:

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled Thursday afternoon that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

Of course it is.

Telling same-sex couples they can’t marry is state-sanctioned discrimination, and it needs to end.

Changing public opinion — along with an avalanche of court rulings — would seem to show a majority of people agree with him. Voters in Florida approved a ban on gay marriage in 2008, but a Quinnipiac University poll in April showed 56 percent of people now favor allowing same-sex couples to wed.

No one is saying this issue isn’t divisive, but if Hinkle is correct, and I suspect he is, future generations will wonder what the fuss was all about.

“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,” he wrote. “Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held.”

Hinkle’s ruling doesn’t mean courthouses in our state will soon be filled with gay couples seeking to legally marry; he immediately stayed his own order until the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decides the issue.

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But his ruling means Florida is the 13th state where a court has overturned a gay marriage ban. All of those decisions are on appeal, but the outlook for keeping the status quo in place was best summed up recently by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.

He announced he would no longer defend the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, calling the process “futile.”

Gay rights has been called the civil rights issue of this generation, and that seems apt. Just as laws institutionalized discrimination against blacks until they were overturned by the Civil Rights Act in 1964, so it has been with this issue.

Gay couples have rightly complained for years about being denied tax breaks and other benefits afforded couples in “traditional” marriages. That’s really the issue that started the dominoes falling.

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a same-sex couple of 40 years, were married in Canada in 2007. After Spyer died two years later, Windsor was denied an estate tax exemption for surviving spouses because the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits same-sex marriage.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Windsor, saying the law violated her Fifth Amendment property rights. Using that ruling as a guide, appeals courts all over the land began overturning same-sex marriage bans.

Now it is Florida’s turn.

Everyone knows this issue is headed to the Supreme Court, perhaps as soon as next year. But Hinkle’s ruling, combined with all the others around the country, certainly will provide ample fodder in the argument to eliminate this vestige of discrimination in the name of fairness.

Florida’s top Republican leaders seem to know which way this is going. Attorney General Pam Bondi, after declaring not long ago that overturning the state’s ban would cause irreparable harm, seems now to have lost interest in fighting the battle. In her latest maneuver, she also basically said the Supremes need to decide this.

Gov. Rick Scott, too, dodges the issue.

Wait, that’s not unusual. He dodges everything.

But they know how this is going. Laws that discriminate cannot be allowed to stand. Florida’s ban against same-sex marriage discriminates.

How can that be legal?

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