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Florida attorney general defends gay marriage ban as cities fight back

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - The intensifying legal battle over gay marriage in Florida is placing state Republican leaders at odds with a growing chorus of local officials.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced plans this week to defend the state's gay marriage ban in two upcoming court cases, including a high-profile Miami hearing involving six same-sex couples. The move followed recent criticism of a brief she filed in yet another case, in which she argued that overturning the ban would “impose significant public harm."

Yet Bondi and Florida Governor Rick Scott, both Republicans, have downplayed their personal views on gay marriage, even as they appeal to conservatives eager to keep Florida's marriage laws intact.

"My job is not to write the law, but to defend it,” Bondi said in a statement earlier this month following outcry over her brief.

Florida voters in 2008 approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. All over the state, legal challenges are advancing as a wave of court rulings across the nation strike down similar laws, with the latest decisions on Wednesday invalidating same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Indiana.

"It's clearly a huge issue in an election year," said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida, which is challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban, calling for Bondi and Scott to clarify their views.

"It has them back-peddling and down-playing and double-speaking," he said.

Last week, Scott cited the 2008 referendum in response to a reporter's question about his views on same-sex marriage.

"I can't imagine that a court would overturn the will of the people," he said.

Some Florida mayors and city council members, including leading Democrats, are pushing back at attitudes in the Republican-led state capital.

City leaders in Orlando and Miami Beach have filed a "friend of the court" brief, voicing support for the couples and gay rights organizations challenging the ban.

Last week, the city of Fort Lauderdale passed a largely symbolic resolution asking Scott and the state Legislature to pass a law for marriage equality.

But Bondi's actions won praise from the conservative organization that led the drive for Florida's gay marriage ban.

"Gay rights activists are attempting to overthrow constitutions that have been direct acts of democracy by millions of Americans," said John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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