Six South Florida same-sex couples who have made lifelong commitments to each other are asking a state court for equal rights and fundamental fairness, and the court should agree. Just as other discriminatory social constructs have fallen, so should the state constitutional ban on gay marriage. Florida should recognize equal protection under the law.
The lawsuit filed by Equality Florida in a Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Tuesday challenges the state's ban on same-sex marriage that Florida voters added to the state Constitution in 2008. The plaintiff couples, three male and three female, all but one with children, say they want what married people enjoy: a legally binding commitment that comes with a host of benefits and protections for spouses and their children. These benefits include spousal insurance coverage, Social Security survivor's benefits and rights under the Family Medical Leave Act to take off work to care for a sick spouse, among many others. The lawsuit says the ban stigmatizes their relationships and humiliates their children in violation of the U.S. Constitution's due process and equal protection clauses. The District of Columbia and 17 states, a number that is certain to rise, already recognize same-sex marriage.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have no compelling argument against it. There is no evidence that allowing gay marriage negatively impacts the institution of marriage or the security of children, as they sometimes argue. Just the opposite is true. When same-sex couples marry, their children become more financially and emotionally secure. Marriage stabilizes society, encourages monogamy and provides couples with a financial safety net they don't have as individuals. The state of Florida's interest is in having more loving couples marry, not fewer.
Soon enough the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the question of whether same-sex marriage is protected by the U.S. Constitution. It gave positive signals in its ruling last term striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law that barred the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages. The justices recognized that same-sex married couples and their children have a right to equal dignity and legal protections. It isn't a big leap to apply those same principles to the right to marry.
Estimates are that there are more than 40 cases in the pipeline challenging state bans nationwide. Florida's case is just one of many. But Florida courts should stand on the right side of history, as did judges and justices before them who eliminated the pernicious exclusionary laws that banned mixed-race couples from marriage nearly half a century ago. The courts have a duty to advance society's evolving standards of equality and fairness by extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.