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Conservative Leader Warns About Challenge to Florida's Marriage Law

July 2, 2014 - 6:00pm

Opening arguments began this week at a state courthouse in Miami as a judge ponders a challenge to the Florida Constitutions recognition of only traditional marriage in the Sunshine State.

With the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, same-sex couples looking to marry in the Sunshine State and LGBT groups are looking to change Florida law. In 2008, Florida voters approved of a proposed state Constitution amendment recognizing only traditional marriage in Florida. The amendment passed with 62 percent of voters backing it, exceeding the 60 percent mark needed to be approved.

We are proud to stand with these courageous families who have stepped forward to defend their families and challenge a law that serves no purpose than to disparage and discriminate against gay couples and our children, said Nadine Smith, the CEO of the Equality Florida Institute which is one of the plaintiffs, late on Wednesday after the hearing. We are optimistic that the judge will rule in favor of equality and fairness, as judges across the country have, and strike down this ban. The tide has turned, and the day is coming when anti-gay marriage laws will meet the same fate as laws banning interracial marriage that limited my parents options.

This case is about one of the most basic principles in our constitutional system -- the right of every person to be treated fairly and equally under the law, insisted Shannon Miller, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NLCR), which is also a plaintiff. The couples in this case simply want the same opportunities to protect themselves and their children that other Florida families enjoy. We look forward to the day when Florida law supports and respects all families and treats every resident of this state as an equal, respected, and participating member of society.

Attorney and social conservative leader John Stemberger of Florida Family Action and Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel looked to defend the law.

Overall, the legal arguments presented for same-sex marriage were surprisingly weak, Stemberger insisted on Thursday. After the first short legal argument, the other lawyers arguing spent a lot of time reading stories, citing antidotal evidence, misrepresenting the impact of multiple cases, and generally dispensing an assortment of inappropriate political rhetoric before the court. In contrast, Mat Staver had a command of the law, the Constitution, legal procedure and the social science research. His case was compelling and clear. Not surprisingly, none of the plaintiffs' gay-rights lawyers ever cited, let alone mentioned. the only clear and controlling legal precedent before the court -- Florida's Constitution and its marriage definition.

Stemberger gave Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel low marks for her handling of Wednesdays proceedings.

The judge sounded unapologetically warm and inviting to the plaintiffs' pro-gay rights positions, Stemberger insisted. Honestly, she sounded so biased it felt like she was coaching the oppositions attorneys and helping them to not forget certain points, etc. ... I was really taken back by how comfortable she felt just coddling the other side's arguments in an open and public court. Sadly, from my perspective she did not even try and attempt to appear neutral in her demeanor and questioning. At this point we can only pray that she does the right thing.

But the bottom line is this -- if the judge does her job and follows the law in Florida, we will prevail, Stemberger continued. If she ignores the Constitution and ignores the will of the people, then she could rule against us and with a stroke of a pen strike down the vote and intentions of millions of Floridians.

Stemberger warned that the judge could find some new right of marriage out of thin air, defying the highest law of the land -- Florida's Constitution, which will make same-sex couples immediately run down to the courthouse and get marriage licenses. Stemberger hoped Attorney General Pam Bondis office files a motion to stay any such orders.

After the Defense of Marriage Law was struck down, laws recognizing only traditional marriage have been struck down across the country, most recently in Kentucky.

Reach Kevin Derby at

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