The theme of this year’s St. Pete Pride celebrations is Global Equality, but it’s the fight for equality here in Florida — marriage equality — that will be making news in coming weeks. If the plaintiffs are successful in a major case going to court next Wednesday, LGBT couples in next year’s parade could be walking hand in hand as married people.
But not if Attorney General Pam Bondi has anything to do with it.
A total of 19 states plus the District of Columbia now allow gays to marry, and in the year since last June’s historic Supreme Court decision striking down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, 11 more states have come into play, as federal judges declared their gay marriage bans unconstitutional. Those decisions have either been stayed or are facing appeal.
Now the fight has inevitably landed in Florida. On Wednesday, July 2, a lawsuit filed in January on behalf of six same-sex South Florida couples and Equality Florida will have its day in court. The suit argues that Florida’s anti-gay marriage laws violate the U.S. Constitution by denying same-sex couples the legal protections that come with the freedom to marry.
Earlier this year, the six couples all applied for marriage licenses at the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office and were turned down. The Miami-Dade County Clerk, Harvey Ruvin, is named as the defendant in the case, Pareto v. Ruvin.
But Bondi took action on Tuesday in hopes of defending the state’s gay marriage ban in court. She filed a motion to intervene in this case, as well as in a similar lawsuit that was filed in Monroe County by a gay couple from Key West when their marriage license application was denied in April.
Bondi stated her rationale in May: “Disrupting Florida’s existing marriage laws would impose significant harm.”
Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida, responds, “It is disappointing at a time when we see attorney generals across the country abandoning defense of their states’ gay marriage bands that [Bondi] would waste our taxpayers’ money.”
Judge Sarah Zabel in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in Miami will hear the Miami-Dade case.
She’s already had to head off complaints and delays before the case has even begun.
Earlier this month, three anti-gay conservative groups asked to become co-defendants on the lawsuit, on the grounds that Ruvin wasn’t defending the state’s gay marriage ban vigorously enough. Zabel denied their request.
She also denied Ruvin’s request to halt the lawsuit while waiting for the federal court in Tallahassee to rule on a pending same-sex marriage case. In March, two federal marriage cases were filed by couples requesting that Florida recognize their marriages, which were legally performed in other states. A federal judge has consolidated the two cases, and motions for summary judgment have been filed in each.
And there are other pending cases that challenge Florida’s gay marriage laws.
In addition to the Monroe County lawsuit, in May a gay man sued the state to recognize his marriage to another man, which was performed in Massachusetts, and allow him to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida Atlantic University as the spouse of a Florida resident. Another couple filed a petition for the dissolution of their marriage in Florida this past March. The request calls for the recognition of their out-of-state marriage so they can file for divorce, and calls the state’s ban of gay marriage into question at the same time.
A voter-mandated marriage amendment prohibiting gay marriage in Florida passed by 62 percent in 2008.
But public opinion is changing quickly in the Sunshine State.
A March 2013 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found that 75 percent of Florida voters support legal recognition for same-sex couples, either in the form of marriage or civil union. And 56 percent of the participants in an April 2014 poll conducted by Quinnipiac supported gay marriage, while 39 percent opposed it and 5 percent were unsure.
“Today the majority of Floridians stand with us, as there is no reasonable argument for discrimination against our families,” said Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith in a press release. “Throughout the nation, courts have ruled that these harmful laws are outdated and out of step, and we believe that equality and justice will prevail in Florida, as well.”