It can be done, and without infringing upon a person’s religious or personal beliefs. Call it evolution, call it common sense. But there is a right way and a wrong way.
Rep. David Jolly of Pinellas County got it right. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs got it wrong.
Both elected officials made statements about marriage equality last month. Republican Rep. Jolly, who edged out Democrat Alex Sink in a special election to finish out the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young’s term, was asked about a Monroe County judge’s ruling holding Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
“As a matter of my Christian faith, I believe in traditional marriage,” Jolly told the Washington Post. “But as a matter of Constitutional principle I believe in a form of limited government that protects personal liberty. To me, that means that the sanctity of one’s marriage should be defined by their faith and by their church, not by their state.
Accordingly, I believe it is fully appropriate for a state to recognize both traditional marriage as well as same-sex marriage, and therefore I support the recent decision by a Monroe County Circuit Judge.”
I may not agree with all of this man’s politics, or even his religious views on same-sex marriage. But I can respect his stance on the separation of the two entities. He answered the question clearly, transparently, and moved on.
Jacobs should take note. She released her statement about marriage equality to this newspaper last week, referencing a similar lawsuit over same-sex marriage rights in Miami-Dade. It was a word-salad that meandered through religious freedom, questioned whether gay couples were even denied rights, and avoided taking sides.
“Our country was founded on certain core values, chief among them equality and religious freedom,” her statement read in part. “Therefore, I am glad the question of Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is before the courts to determine if it denies same-sex couples equal rights and protections under the law.”
Jacobs supports equality and religious freedom. She’s also glad same-sex couples’ arguments are being heard, because it’s possible—not certain—that our rights are being denied.
She then makes a general disclaimer that she has no jurisdiction on the issue but nonetheless read the lawsuit and believes “that a very strong case was made.” By which side? She doesn’t give any more information.
Finally she finds clarity, when speaking about religious freedom, not equality or civil rights.
“I hope that religious institutions will continue to have the freedom to define marriage according to their own doctrines,” she said. “Protecting the right to practice one’s religion without interference from government is an equally important cornerstone of our free nation.”
In other words, Mayor Jacobs’ statement on marriage equality was instead a call for religious freedom.
Four years ago, Jacobs stated her opposition to same-sex marriage rights in this newspaper. Since then, supporters claim she has spoken in favor of equality at public forums. They also say that she is “evolving,” just a few steps behind President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
That may be true, and I prefer to be optimistic. But if elected officials are to evolve, they must first speak candidly about where they are in their journey. Sen. Marco Rubio doesn’t support marriage equality, and he recently made that clear. I don’t like his point of view, but at least I know where he stands.
Rep. Jolly and those he represents should be proud of the way he handled this thorny political issue. Jacobs’ constituents deserve better.