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'A horrible law': Florida lawmakers seek repeal of defunct ban on same-sex marriage

James Call
Capital Bureau
Gay-rights advocates gathered at the old Capitol Thursday evening to celebrate a decision by a judge in the Florida Keys to overturn the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

A trio of Democratic lawmakers are calling leaders in the Florida House and Senate to schedule committee hearings for a proposal to repeal a defunct state law prohibiting same-sex marriage.  

The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he supports the bill and is willing to schedule the proposal if the House goes first.

"I have a lots of bill and will be happy to move it if I know that I'm not hurting other legislation for something that's not moving, is dead, in the House," said Brandes.

Rep. Wyman Duggan, R-Jacksonville, chairs the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Committee, the bill's first stop. He was unavailable for comment.

Rep. Michelle Rayner, D-St.Petersburg, and senators Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee, argued Friday that passage of either HB 6017 or SB 558 is needed despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that same-sex wedlock is a legal right in case "things were to change" at the Court.

"We can't rely on the Supreme Court decision," said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, the Senate sponsor.

Polsky fears Florida would be a state "that goes backwards" on marriage equality, if the Supreme Court were to revisit the issue and reverse course.

"We have this horrible law on the books that needs to be repealed," said Polsky.

It's a much different world than it was 13 years ago when more than 4.8 million Floridians said marriage is a union between a man and a woman and same-sex couples shouldn’t have the same legal rights as a straight couple. 

That was the view of 61.9% of voters in 2008 who approved Amendment 2 to include a same-sex marriage ban to the state Constitution

A series of court rulings struck down the Florida prohibition in 2014.

A few weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. 

A man carries a protest poster outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26. 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex.

However, the obsolete Florida ban remains on the books in Florida statute. 

Allies for Equality Florida, a civil rights group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender and queer residents, have introduced repeal proposals every year since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. 

The proposals never advance in the Florida Legislature. 

“What I see is the leadership don’t want to hear it on either side, neither the Senate or the House,” said Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee, who sponsored the proposal last year and continues to support it this session. 

“I would like an up or down vote in committee and let's see how you feel about equality in the State of Florida, how do you feel about the folks you represent in your district, would you allow them the same benefits as a regular husband and wife.” 

Brandes said he will scheduled SB 558 for hearing as soon as the House hears its companion HB 6017.

"I will also support it as an amendment on the floor," said Brandes.

The 2021 session of the Florida Legislature is scheduled to begin March 2.

Florida’s same-sex marriage timeline

September 21, 1996: President Bill Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act. It bans recognition of same-sex marriage and defines marriages as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

November 4, 2008: Florida voters pass Amendment 2, which defined marriage as between a man and woman, by a 61% margin. Similar propositions are approved in Arizona and California. 

June 26, 2013: The Supreme Court rejects parts of DOMA in a 5-4 decision. It also ruled private parties do not have "standing" to defend the California measure barring same-sex marriage.  

February 12, 2014: US District Judge John G. Heyburn II rules that Kentucky's same-sex wedlock ban violates the equal protection provision of the U.S. Constitution.  

February 26, 2014: US District Judge Orlando Garcia rules the Texas ban on same-sex marriage has no "rational relation to a legitimate government purpose." 

August 21, 2014: District Judge Robert Hinkle rules the Florida ban is unconstitutional. The ruling is stayed until Jan. 5, to allow Attorney General Pam Bondi to appeal. 

Dec. 19, 2014: The U.S. Supreme Court rejects a Florida petition to extend the stay. 

Jan. 1, 2015: Hinkle clarifies order to instruct all 67 county clerks they are bound by the U.S. Constitution and must not enforce the marriage ban. 

Jan. 6, 2015: Same-sex marriage becomes legal throughout Florida, with mass weddings performed shortly after midnight in Key West and Fort Lauderdale. 

June 26, 2015: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage is a legal right throughout the nation. 

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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