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DOMA Decision Splits Florida Delegation, Mostly on Party Lines

June 25, 2013 - 6:00pm

Floridas congressional delegation split, mostly on party lines, in their reactions to the U.S. Supreme Courts decision on Wednesday which ruled the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.

Shortly after the decision, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, expressed his opposition to the decision in a statement released early Wednesday afternoon. Rubio slammed the decision as a serious mistake and insisted the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds.

I do not believe that President Clinton and overwhelming bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress acted with malice or intent to demean a class of people when they adopted a uniform definition of marriage for the purposes of federal law, Rubio said. The court should not have second-guessed the will of the American people acting through their elected representatives without firm constitutional justifications. The sweeping language of todays majority opinion is more troubling than the ruling itself as it points to further interference by the court in the years to come.

I recognize that the definition of marriage and the legal status of same-sex relationships is a deeply personal and emotional issue for Americans of a variety of viewpoints. These types of disagreements should be settled through the democratic process, as the founders intended, not through litigation and court pronouncements, Rubio continued. For millions of Americans, the definition of marriage is not an abstract political question, or some remote legal debate. Its a deeply personal issue. Its an issue that I have grappled with as well."

Saying marriage is a unique historical institution best defined as the union between one man and one woman, Rubio said Congress should have had the final say on the matter.

Rubio did find a silver lining in the Supreme Courts refusal to rule on a challenge to Californias Proposition 8, a successful state constiutional amendment measure which voters passed in 2008.

I do not believe there exists a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Therefore, I am glad the Supreme Court did not create one in the Proposition 8 case, Rubio said. Rather than having courts redefine marriage for all Americans, my hope is that the American people, through their state legislatures and referendums, can continue to decide the definition of marriage. It is through debates like this that the brilliance of our constitutional system of democracy, and the inherent goodness of our people, is revealed.

While Rubio expressed his opposition to the decision, his colleague in the Senate, Democrat Bill Nelson, kept a lower profile on Wednesday though he did tell the media he supported the decision. Nelson had supported DOMA until recently. One of the last Democrats in the Senate to support overturning DOMA, Nelson only joined efforts to repeal DOMA in April 2013.

Florida Democrats in the U.S. House were much more vocal than Nelson was in their support of the ruling. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who represents parts of South Florida in Congress, praised the court decision in an email to supporters on Wednesday.

Today is a very good day -- both for the married couples who will finally enjoy the federal benefits and protections theyve been denied for years, and for all Americans who want to live in a country where everyone is treated equally under the law, Schultz insisted. By striking down the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court took an important step toward equality -- but we still have so much further to go.

Wasserman Schultz quickly moved to attack Republicans on the issue.

Equality shouldnt be a partisan issue, but unfortunately, right now it is. The Republicans oppose marriage equality in their official party platform, and the vast majority of my Republican colleagues in Congress agree with that position, she wrote. Given how much progress weve made on this issue in such a short period of time, itd be easy to think that achieving full equality for all Americans is inevitable.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat who represents parts of the Tampa Bay region, praised the decision and said she hoped Florida would support same-sex marriage.

"Florida leaders should embrace this decision and address the outdated and discriminatory Article I; Section 27 of the Florida Constitution that bars many Florida married couples from equal rights and treatment even after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling today," Castor said on Wednesday.

Most Florida Republicans in Congress, who have generally supported DOMA, opposed the decision on Wednesday. But there was one prominent supporter of the decision in the Florida GOP ranks -- U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who released a statement on Wednesday.

Todays rulings are a historic victory toward marriage equality, said Ros-Lehtinen, the only Republicans in the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. The Supreme Court made the right decision by striking down DOMA. Same-sex married couples will now be able to receive equal federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. As a supporter of equal rights for all, I am pleased that the court ruled in favor of equal treatment and protection under federal law. It is wrong to deny LGBT Americans the rights that are enjoyed by others. We must continue to act to ensure that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are applied to all. I look forward to the day when we achieve marriage equality in all states. Today, equality for all people has triumphed over discrimination and prejudice.

The statement by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., was more typical of Republicans in the Florida delegation.

I am disappointed in the courts decision to overturn an overwhelmingly bipartisan law that defends the sanctity of traditional marriage, Southerland said. While I strongly believe in treating each individual with dignity and respect, I remain hopeful that states will continue to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at 904-521-3722

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