Taxpayers get to pay the price for official state bigotry

Two months after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the legal debate over gay marriage by declaring that the constitutionally protected civil right to marriage must be extended to same-sex couples nationwide, attorneys general and governors who fought it are receiving unpleasant souvenirs of failure: Invoices from the attorneys who beat them.

States that defended same-sex marriage bans — most did, to some extent — are now being asked to pay the legal fees for those litigants under a 40-year-old federal law that says the court “in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party … a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs.”

Or as Michigan attorney Dana Nessel put it: “It’s the price governments pay for defending bigotry.”

Defeat won’t come cheap — or, in many cases, without further legal wrangling.

Michigan is weighing its response to a $1.9 million demand from attorneys for April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, plaintiffs in one of the four cases that went to the Supreme Court and was decided in June. In Kentucky, another state involved in the Supreme Court showdown, the bill for services rendered is $2.1 million. South Carolina has been ordered to pay $130,000, and Florida’s attorney general is fighting a tab of about $700,000.

Several states have struck agreements already. Pennsylvania settled for $1.5 million, Wisconsin for $1.05 million, Virginia for $580,000, Oregon for $132,000, Colorado for $90,000, Utah for $95,000 and North Dakota for $58,000. The varying prices reflect the length of the battles or their intensity.

“This is exactly what Congress created this law for,” said Stephen Rosenthal, a Miami-based attorney who fought Florida’s ban. “It’s a recognition that people need lawyers to fight the government, which has lots of lawyers, when they feel their civil rights are being violated. To encourage lawyers to take these cases, you need to provide the potential to get paid in the end.”

The attorneys general of Michigan, Florida, South Carolina and South Dakota did not respond to requests for comment.

Sometimes the creeps who fight tooth-and-nail against progress get what they deserve. Taxpayers – who elected creeps to represent them – get to foot the bill.

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