June 27, 2014 at 2:20 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Crist urges Florida court to overturn marriage ban
Charlie Crist, Florida, gay news, Washington Blade

Charlie Crist is calling on a state court in Florida to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage (Photo public domain).

A Republican-turned-Democrat seeking to become Florida’s next governor is now calling on a state circuit court in Florida to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, despite having endorsed the same ban when he occupied the governor’s mansion years ago.

Charlie Crist, who’s seeking once again to become Florida’s governor as a Democrat after he held the position as a Republican from 2007 to 2011, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Friday before a Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in Miami, which considering the constitutionality of the marriage ban in the case of Pareto v. Rubin.

In the four-page brief, attorneys for Crist said the gubernatorial candidate’s former support for the ban, known as Amendment 2, puts him in a “unique position” to explain why the court shouldn’t defer to the electoral process in leaving the ban in place.

“The simple reason is that Florida’s same-sex marriage law was grounded in unlawful discrimination when it was enacted in 1977, and the purported evidence and arguments that seemed to support the similar constitutional amendment in 2008 have been discredited both by science and experience,” the attorneys write. “The evidence now known to be true is that discriminatory marriage laws – like discrimination by government in any form – undermine effective governance.”

Misconceptions about marriage equality led Crist and others to oppose it at the time, the attorneys write, but those views have changed in the light of scientific evidence and the evolution of society.

“Thus, with the arc of history now, in fact, bending toward justice, this issue of marriage equality will almost certainly not even be an issue for the children and grandchildren of this State,” the attorneys writes. “But it is still the duty of those in the present to recognize that the legitimacy of government depends upon its willingness to fairly, transparently and equitably administer the law.”

The brief comes ahead of a hearing in the lawsuit before Judge Sarah Zabel scheduled on July 2. It was filed in January on behalf of Equality Florida Institute and six couples who had been denied marriage licenses. Others who have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of overturning the marriage ban are the mayors of Orlando and Miami Beach.

Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, commended Crist for lending his voice to the lawsuit seeking marriage equality in the Sunshine State.

“As former Governor, and as someone who previously supported this measure, Charlie Crist’s words matter a great deal,” Smith said. “He has taken the same journey the majority of Floridians have taken in realizing that this ban serves no purpose but to disparage and discriminate against gay couples and our children.”

Crist’s argument that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional marks a complete turnaround from views in 2008 when he previously occupied the governor’s mansion.

In 2006, he signed a petition to place before voters the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, then publicly affirmed he supported the amendment. When he unsuccessfully ran as an Independent for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2010, Crist continued to oppose to marriage equality, saying marriage is “a sacred institution.”

But that changed after Crist rose up from his electoral defeat and became a Democrat. Last year, he announced on his Facebook page that he supports same-sex marriage. In a subsequent publication with the Florida-based LGBT publication Watermark Online, Crist said he was “sorry” for supporting the ban on same-sex marriage in the past.

That apparently was good enough for LGBT advocates. The Equality Florida Action PAC and the Human Rights Campaign have both endorsed Crist in his bid for governor. Just this week, Crist appeared at a meet-and-greet at the Human Rights Campaign’s D.C. headquarters to meet and take photos with supporters.

Marty Rouse, the national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed confidence that Crist would work to enhance the lives of LGBT people in a statement announcing HRC’s support.

“We are honored to stand with Charlie Crist in his campaign to be the next governor of Florida,” Rouse said. “Gov. Crist will work to improve the lives of all Florida families – including LGBT families – and for that he has our gratitude and our support.”

But Crist isn’t the only candidate seeking the Democratic nomination in Florida to run for governor. Also in contention is Nan Rich, who was Senate Democratic leader during her time in the legislature. The primary is set for August 12. Whomever wins will likely face incumbent Gov. Rick Scott in the general election.

Crist, who’s twice married, has faced persistent questions about this sexual orientation. The 2009 film “Outrage” asserts that Crist is gay, but he has denied the allegations.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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