Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gay couples to challenge Florida's marriage ban

Six South Florida same-sex couples filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Tuesday, seeking to overturn Florida's ban on gay marriage.

The suit, similar to others sweeping the country, contends that the ban stigmatizes gay couples and their children, serves no legitimate government interest and violates due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.

Echoing language from the civil rights era, the suit seeks "fundamental rights, dignity and equality.''

The suit was filed on behalf of the couples by Equality Florida, a statewide advocacy group that sifted through about 1,000 potential plaintiffs to set up a test case.

The couples, three male and three female, have been together for years, the suit says. Five of the six couples have children.

They applied for marriage licenses Friday and — as expected — were turned down by the clerk of court. On Tuesday, Equality Florida filed the suit and held a news conference.

"We stand here for those who have applied for marriage licenses and face the humiliation of being denied,'' Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith said. "We stand here for the children of couples who want to know why their parents aren't permitted to get married the way their classmates' parents are."

The push for same-sex marriage has accelerated since last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That ruling left state marriage bans intact, but the court's language provided potent ammunition for state-by-state challenges.

Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage, a figure that doubled in 2013. Federal judges in Oklahoma and Utah have recently struck down gay marriage bans as discriminatory. Lambda Legal, a nationwide gay rights organization, estimates that more than 40 lawsuits are now challenging state level bans.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office is charged with defending challenges to Florida law, did not respond to requests for comment. The ban, which defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman, was established both by legislative action and by a 2008 constitutional amendment that passed with 62 percent of the vote.

John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council, promised a vigorous defense.

"Gay activists cannot win in the marketplace, so they have resorted to trying to find renegade courts who have little respect for the rule of law to create social change that would never happen through the people or their elected representatives," Stemberger said in a release. "We will spend as much time and money as necessary to oppose those who seek to redefine marriage in Florida."

The lawsuit's advocates, however, say attitudes toward gay marriage have changed in Florida and elsewhere since 2008, with many opinion polls showing broad support for ending same-sex bans. Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat who is seeking his old job back, said in a statement he supports the lawsuit.

"No one would want to be told they can't marry the person they love,'' said Crist. "It's an issue of fairness and I'm proud to support it."

Elizabeth Schwartz, a Miami Beach lawyer working on the plaintiffs' case, said whichever side loses will likely appeal to higher courts.

"This could be with us for two or three years,'' she said.

The DOMA ruling focused much of its thrust on dignity and stigmatization. Beyond such abstract concepts, the Florida ban has practical repercussions.

Same-sex couples cannot get survivor's benefits under Social Security, or worker's compensation for a partner who dies on the job. They often cannot get spousal insurance coverage and benefits. Even with air-tight wills, they lack some inheritance rights that recognized marriages confer.

In one of the more vexing ironies, Florida's law prevents gay marriage but makes divorce difficult.

Couples who marry in another state or Canada cannot later get a Florida divorce because the courts cannot legally recognize the marriage long enough to end it. That leaves couples with no clear standard for dividing assets or determining custody of adopted children.

In many cases, unhappy couples are blocked from returning to where they tied the knot because most states impose a residency requirement for divorce.

Off course, divorce is rarely on any couple's mind, straight or gay, when they are seeking a marriage license.

"Carla and I share a beautiful life together,'' said plaintiff Catherina Pareto at the news conference. "We have an amazing son together. We've built a successful business together. We share our finances together. We go to church together. We serve our community together. Our respective families have fully integrated. But in the eyes of the law, we are legal strangers."

Information from the Associated Press and Miami Herald was used in this report. Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at nohlgren@tampabay.com.

.FAST FACTS

Gay marriage across the U.S.

Lambda Legal provided this summary Tuesday, cautioning that it might be incomplete because events are changing rapidly.

Places where same-sex marriage is legal: California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Illinois (beginning June 1).

Litigation in state courts for and against same-sex marriage: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Ligation in federal courts for and against same-sex marriage: Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

Litigation in federal circuit appeals courts: Hawaii and Nevada.

. FAST FACTS

Gay marriage across the U.S.

Lambda Legal provided this summary Tuesday, cautioning that it might be incomplete because events are changing rapidly.

States where same sex marriage is legal: California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Illinois (beginning June 1).

Litigation in state courts for and against same sex marriage: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Ligation in federal courts for and against same sex marriage: Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

Litigation in federal circuit appeals courts: Hawaii and Nevada.

Gay couples to challenge Florida's marriage ban 01/21/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 11:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa

    Blogs

    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  5. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.