TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami /NSF) — With the gubernatorial race in full swing, Florida Governor Rick Scott is keeping his distance from the topic of gay marriage considered one of the country’s thorniest political issues.
Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a much-anticipated notice Thursday that the state will appeal a federal judge’s ruling last month that overturned Florida’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. But in the lead-up to Bondi’s move, Scott sidestepped questions about whether the state should appeal.
“This is a constitutional matter and it is the responsibility of the attorney general to handle cases involving Florida?s Constitution,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an e-mail before Bondi’s filing.
Tupps’s statement echoed what Scott told reporters this week while on the campaign trail.
But it isn’t that simple.
As part of U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s Aug. 21 ruling, Scott and Bondi were removed as individual defendants in the case, which is a consolidation of two separate federal lawsuits and involves gay couples married in other states. The lawsuits include challenges to gay couples’ inability in Florida to get pension benefits or health insurance for spouses.
Hinkle left standing as defendants, however, two Scott appointees — the secretaries of the Department of Management Services and the Department of Health. Because they answer to the governor, Hinkle wrote that it was “redundant” for Scott to remain a defendant but left the door open for the governor to be added later.
“Rick Scott has been throwing Pam Bondi under the bus for a long time on this issue. He is continuing to hide behind the attorney general but he can’t hide any more,” said Daniel Tilley, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida representing SAVE Foundation, a Miami-based non-profit whose members include couples involved in the case.
Tilley added: “The fact is he is in effect the client and the client decides how the litigation proceeds. It’s bizarre to suggest as the client that he has no say in this matter. He has all of the say.”
The issue of gay marriage poses an election-year challenge for Scott, who has the support of Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger, a lawyer responsible for getting the “Florida Marriage Protection Act” onto the ballot in 2008 and helping get it passed.
Stemberger said Scott has been “solid and consistent” in his opposition to gay marriage.
The governor, who has been saddled by low approval numbers, may not want to alienate Christian conservatives like Stemberger, especially in what is expected to be a tight race against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
Crist is unabashedly seeking the support of gay activists, however. The former Republican apologized to the gay community last year for previously throwing his support behind the constitutional ban on gay marriage.
A NIGHT OUT WITH THE GUYS
When is a fundraising invitation mentioning cigars not just a fundraising invitation mentioning cigars? When it plays into the narrative a candidate’s opponent is trying to build in the campaign.
This week, BuzzFeed published an invitation to a men-only fundraiser held in March to support Republican Congressman Steve Southerland, who’s battling Democrat Gwen Graham in what appears to be a tight race in North Florida. An excerpt:
“Good men sitting around discussing & solving political & social problems over fine food & drink date back to the 12th Century with King Arthur’s Round Table. … Tell the Misses not to wait up because the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many.”
Southerland’s campaign told BuzzFeed that it was “laughable that an issue is being made over an invitation to a private event hosted on Steve’s behalf six months ago.” But Democrats, who have been hammering Southerland for not voting for one version of the Violence Against Women Act (he’s pointed to his vote for a GOP alternative), were trying to make sure they had the last laugh.
“Congressman Southerland owes North Floridians an apology for his demeaning attitude towards women and his refusal to be honest about his vote against the Violence Against Women Act,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant. “He should treat his constituents with the respect they deserve and stop telling voters in North Florida one thing while doing another in Washington.”
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Anybody notice we’re now arguing whether Scott is or isn’t up 5, not whether Charlie is or isn’t up 8? Thought I would point that out.” — Republican strategist Mac Stipanovich (@MacStipanovich)
“The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam and Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.”
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