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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Voters, not judges, should settle same-sex marriage

Ever restive, Americans’ opinions regarding most things have shifted radically over recent decades. I blame my self-absorbed, pig-through-a-python baby boomer generation — but none so much as our opinion about marriage. The results are mixed at best.

One thing is clear: In a culture where no-fault divorces promote serial marriages or, as often, casual shack-ups, Ozzie and Harriet’s nuclear family — mom, dad, assorted youngsters and a well-groomed pet or two — is neither traditional nor even particularly ideal, but instead is such a quaint anachronism we giggle at government’s attempts to promote it.

Even so, we’re still probably closer to the beginning of our discussion about what constitutes a proper marriage than to its settled conclusion. Never mind 5,000 years of human experience. In our information-saturated age, we’re fussing about who should, and should not, enjoy the fruits and responsibilities of state-sanctioned marriage as if the topic were brand new.

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One way or the other, the case coming before a federal judge in Miami July 2 challenging Florida’s 6-year-old constitutional ban on same-sex marriages could be the next shoe to drop.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Temple Terrace-reared Republican, plopped into a simmering pot the other week over her brief seeking dismissal of a related suit that would force Florida to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, mostly because her words were too easily snipped and misrepresented: “[D]isrupting Florida’s existing marriage laws,” she wrote, “would impose significant public harm.”

Social media activists whipped up a storm — Bondi: Gay marriage would cause harm — and sympathetic newspaper columnists glommed on. Subsequent clarifications — “Florida is harmed whenever a federal court enjoins enforcement of its laws,” said solicitor general Allen Winsor, “including the laws at issue here” — cooled nothing. Marriage-equality supporters caught Bondi in an unforced error, and they weren’t easing off. So they quoted her out of context. Happens all the time in the big leagues.

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Supporters note the wave of similar bans being struck down in federal courts around the country, 19 at last count, not to mention the number of state attorneys general who — flatly spurning their oaths of office — simply have refused to defend those bans. Bondi, in refreshing contrast, stands by her vow “to uphold the laws of the land.” Nations of law require nothing less.

Besides, she notes, the brief “doesn’t argue for or against same -sex marriage as a matter of policy, wisdom, or fairness.” The amendment merely is what it is. An AG who didn’t like having to defend it would have a responsibility to resign.

This is where we came in. What is a marriage? Never mind history or tradition. Democratic republics have proven methods for managing even seismic shake-ups of cultural norms, and the best outcomes invariably emerge through argument and persuasion.

You want opposing sides to dig in and never relent? Let the courts pick the winners.

Supporters of same-sex marriage claim Floridians have come around to their point of view. Even now they’re collecting signatures to get a repeal of the ban on the ballot. Fine. Let’s test their theory in the court of public opinion.

If a judge decides — or, ultimately, even a collection of nine in the U.S. Supreme Court — we’ll never hear the end of it.

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