Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa Bay residents react to Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and same-sex marriage

Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex partner benefits left Florida's ban on gay marriage intact, but the decision still carried emotional punch for some Tampa Ray residents.

"It's kind of overwhelming,'' said Jeanne Barlow, of St. Petersburg, who married her long-time partner, Nadine Doll, in New York City two years ago. Both 61-year-old registered nurses, they jointly raised Barlow's 39-year-old son.

"A lot of times the law doesn't get things right, but now we have validation for our family,'' Barlow said. "We are not second-class citizens in this country I love.''

Almost every year, the couple has been audited by the IRS, because they often switch which one takes the mortgage deduction on their jointly owned home. Barlow has to plow through hours of paperwork to justify the deduction and still is fighting a 2010 audit.

She presumes the ruling will "now allow me to file jointly with my wife and there will be no more craziness with the deductions.''

Wednesday's ruling left unanswered how federal law will address legally married same sex couples who live in Florida. Some federal agencies pin benefits to state law where people married. Other agencies go by state law where people currently live.

But for a day at least, the celebrations outshone the questions.

Amid gray skies and rumbling thunder, rainbow flags and signs brightened St. Petersburg's Straub Park at an afternoon rally attended by around 100 people, one of several such events organized by Equality Florida.

People carried signs with slogans like "Straight but not narrow" and "I'm feeling a little more human today." Babies and dogs sported rainbow attire. Speakers emphasized not only Wednesday's rulings, but the ongoing effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Florida.

After 17 years together, Kelly Connelly, 46, and Sarah Miller, 47, said they have considered getting married in Massachusetts. They're more likely to do so now, though it is unclear whether federal benefits would apply to them in Florida.

"Even if it doesn't mean that for us right now, there's a chance it will soon," Miller said.

Those ominous skies did eventually pour rain, and the weather threatened a 7 p.m. rally of gay rights activists outside Tampa's federal courthouse. The skies cleared just in time, though, and a crowd of about 60 cheered and clapped as a series of speakers praised the Supreme Court's ruling while cautioning more work needs to be done.

"Enjoy the moment. Celebrate the victory. Love, kiss, and hug the one you love. Most importantly, get involved," said Pastor Joe Parramore, 50, of New Journey Fellowship and Ministries.

Among those cheering in the crowd were Kacey Crisler, 34, and Christine Sutton, 44. The Tampa women have been together for three years and plan to get married. They already go by the new last name they plan to take together — Duquesne, a name they chose due to Crisler's French heritage. While thrilled with Wednesday's news, the women have no desire to go to a state where gay marriage is legal for their nuptials.

"We're waiting until it's legal here," said Sutton. "This is where we live. This is where we want to get married."

Not everyone rejoiced at the news.

Terry Kemple, a conservative Christian activist running for the Hillsborough County School Board, lamented the ruling as "another example of how courts at every level are defining the social fabric of America based on whim as opposed to the constitutional underpinnings of our country.''

Floridians may not be affected immediately, but that battle will come, said Kemple, president of the Community Issues Council in Valrico.

"Historically, from the point of view of people wanting to promote homosexual behavior, as soon as one inch is taken, the battle has already begun for the next inch."

Kemple said he expects a same-sex couple married in another state but living in Florida will soon sue to invalidate the state constitution, which defines marriage as between a man and woman. A 2008 amendment adding that language was passed by almost 62 percent of voters, but Wednesday's ruling "puts that even more significantly in jeopardy,'' Kemple said.

So far, Philip and Chris Erigo-Backsman, of Land O'Lakes, have seen no reason to leave Florida for a legal marriage. They had a commitment ceremony 15 years ago, adopted a 17-year-old son two years ago, and refer to each other as husband when around friends and family.

Legal marriage "just comes down to a piece of paper, only because of how much our commitment unit is recognized by friends, family, employers and coworkers,'' said Philip, an accountant.

But that may change depending on how Wednesday's ruling affects tax law, he said.

Chris, a nurse, gets health insurance through Philip's employer. It's a tax-free benefit to heterosexual couples, but because of the now-overturned federal Defense of Marriage Act, has been treated as taxable income for gay couples, legally married or not. Philip figures it costs them at least $1,000 a year in extra taxes.

The ruling "is awesome. It's another step forward to equality,'' he said.

It's not clear yet how the IRS will now deal with a Florida same-sex couple who marries in another state, then returns to Florida, which does not recognize the marriage. Federal agencies differ on whether marriage benefits flow from the law in a state where people marry or from the law of the state where they live.

But if the Erigo-Backsmans can save money on taxes, they will probably get married, Philip said. "There are so many new issues this will create.''

Bishop Robert Lynch, of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, said he expects courts to debate these issues for years to come.

"The Catholic Church has a great interest in the definition of marriage since it is one of its seven sacraments,'' Lynch said in a statement posted on the diocese's website. "We firmly believe that marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman. I pray that no civil legislation will ever require of us or any religion the freedom to define marriage for our own ecclesial purpose.''

At a breakfast restaurant on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue shortly after the ruling, Jennifer Romanelli was fired up.

"I'm thrilled that they finally got something right," said Romanelli, 30, who is gay.

She said she believes overturning DOMA was wise, and it was appropriate to leave the issue of same-sex marriage to the states. If enough states capitalize on current momentum and pass legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, she is confident it will lead to a federal equality law.

"It's such an archaic ideology to deny people the right to marry based on something that they cannot control," she said. "It's exactly what interracial marriage was 40 years ago."

Nearby at the Vlvt Salon, Anita Dyson, 57, said she has gay friends and believes the court's action is encouraging.

"I would have to say I wish they went further, but at least it's a step in the right direction," she said.

Salon owner Albie Mulcahy, 60, said he is happy Proposition 8 may no longer stand in California, at least in parts of the state.

"I would encourage all states to make it legal," he said of same-sex marriage. "There's too many other pressing problems to worry about who's going to love each other."

In Ybor City, Dean Rosenberger, who works at New World Brewery, said he heard about the ruling on the radio on his way to work.

"I think it's a wonderful thing," he said, adding that DOMA "was wrong on the part of the federal government.''

At the Laughing Cat restaurant, bartender Jake Howard said several of his LGBT friends posted on Facebook about the ruling.

"It doesn't matter whether you're gay, straight, whatever," he said. "Everybody should be allotted the same rights."

Equality Florida, which lobbies for gay and lesbian rights, hailed the ruling as a "major step forward for the country" but a reminder that same-sex marriages remain unrecognized in this state.

"We cannot wait for justice to be handed to us,'' said executive director Nadine Smith. "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.''

Ken Boehm, 52, of Bradenton, said he does not support the decision to overturn DOMA. Gay marriage corrupts morals, said Boehm, who was walking in downtown St. Petersburg.

"It corrupts the whole society and sends it down a path that's not healthy," he said.

Boehm said he was married but is divorced, and he is not overly religious. He is concerned about leading youth astray.

"You could teach everybody to be gay if it was allowed everywhere," he said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster declined to comment on the ruling. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn did not return requests for comment.

Steve Kornell, a gay St. Petersburg City Council member, happened to be in Washington on vacation so he joined the throngs outside the court building in anticipation of the ruling.

"It was a joyous occasion, Everyone was excited and happy. People were chanting, "DOMA is dead. DOMA is dead,' '' Kornell said.

Though he has been in a relationship for three years, Kornell said, he will not get married out-of-state, even if he has to forgo federal benefits for a while.

"I want to get married in my state, in my home town. I think it will come soon enough,'' Kornell said. "I don't need an accountant to tell me how to do marriage.''

Times staff writers Zachary T. Sampson, Laura Morel and Will Hobson contributed to this report.

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