Gay marriage still not legal in Florida

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TALLAHASSEE (AP) -While gay rights advocates were celebrating two Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriages Wednesday, gay couples still won't be able to marry in Florida.

The Supreme Court struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples. It also left intact a lower court ruling overturning California's gay marriage ban.

The rulings didn't address gay marriage bans in other states such as Florida, where voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. It will take approval from 60 percent of voters to overturn it if the issue is put on the ballot again.

"It impacted federal law, not state law. In 2008, Florida voters amended our constitution so that we're a traditional marriage state. Marriage is between a man and a woman," said Republican Gov. Rick Scott. "As governor of the state I'll uphold the existing law of the land, and that's the law of our state."

Still, gay rights advocates hope the Supreme Court's decisions will provide momentum to eventually overturn Florida's ban. Whether that's through a legal challenge or a return to the ballot is yet to be seen.

What's certain is that for the immediate future, the Legislature, with its nearly two-thirds Republican majority in both chambers, won't be much help on the issue.

"Tallahassee has got to be ready to have these debates," said Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, who is gay. "Taking a hard look at our constitution and the constitutional ban we have is one step."

While he said more Republicans are supporting gay rights, he acknowledged that leadership is not, preventing gay rights issues from being heard in the Legislature. One argument he hopes sways them is that the gay marriage ban might hurt the state economically as more states allow same sex marriages, saying people and companies may leave the state or choose not to come here.

"What I hope is that coming out of the Supreme Court rules is that the winds are in the sails here," Saunders said. "Unless Republicans and Democrats get right on these issues, we have an economic disadvantage."

In order to get back on the ballot it would require either action by the Legislature -- which won't happen any time soon -- or a petition drive that would require the signatures of more than 683,000 registered voters.

"For those of us who live in states like Florida where our marriages are still not recognized, today's rulings are a reminder that we cannot wait for justice to be handed to us, we are going to have to get engaged and fight," the gay rights group Equality Florida said in a press release. "A majority of Floridians support the freedom to marry, and this is our moment to stand up and get engaged on the right side of history."

Florida voters approved the amendment to ban gay marriage 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent. And while Equality Florida believes most Floridians now support the idea, the 60 percent approval threshold makes repeal difficult. The group is not seeking to bring the issue back to voters in 2014.

While attitudes have been changing about gay marriage as more states, Republicans still largely oppose it.

"I believe the Supreme Court made a serious mistake," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. "I respect the rights of states to allow same-sex marriages, even though I disagree with them. But I also expect that the decisions made by states like Florida to define marriage as between one man and one woman will also be respected."

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