TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's attorney general contends in recently-filed court documents that recognizing same sex marriages performed in other states would disrupt Florida's existing marriage laws and "impose significant public harm."
Eight gay couples and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state in federal court in March. The lawsuit argues Florida is discriminating against the couples by not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican who was named in the lawsuit along with fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials, earlier this month filed a lengthy response that asks a federal judge to throw out the lawsuit for several reasons, saying a federal court shouldn't rule on a state's marriage laws.
Bondi's office also argues that the state has a legitimate interest in defining marriage as between a man and woman. Florida first banned same-sex marriages nearly two decades ago and voters reinforced that ban when they passed a constitutional amendment in 2008.
"Florida's marriage laws, then, have a close, direct, and rational relationship to society's legitimate interest in increasing the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by the mothers and fathers who produced them in stable and enduring family units," Bondi's office said in court documents.
The state's legal position also notes that there would be significant financial and logistical problems for the state's pension and health insurance programs if same-sex marriages were recognized.
The lead attorney for the ACLU of Florida disagreed.
"Florida's discriminatory laws cause serious harm to real families across the state," attorney Daniel Tilley said in a statement. "Despite the state's assertion that the harms to same-sex married couples aren't significant enough to warrant relief, the families living every day being treated like legal strangers by their home state know better."
Florida's Democrats and gay rights groups were also highly critical of Bondi's legal response as was one of Bondi's political opponents.
But the attorney general's office said they had an obligation to defend the state's existing laws.
"Florida's voters approved a constitutional amendment, which is being challenged, and it is the Attorney General's duty to defend Florida law," said Florida Solicitor General Allen Winsor.
Winsor also insisted that the harm mentioned in the filing had to do with the legal challenge itself.
"Florida is harmed whenever a federal court enjoins enforcement of its laws, including the laws at issue here," he said.
Scott earlier this year said he supports Florida's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but added that he "does not believe that anyone should be discriminated against for any reason."
The lawsuit in Florida is part of a groundswell of challenges in the gay marriage debate.
Several federal judges have ruled in support of same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law.
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