The Fight for Marriage Equality in Florida
Two-thirds of the marriage equality suits in Florida have gotten favorable rulings this summer, and at least two may head directly to the state Supreme Court.
When Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis ruled yesterday that a Florida man could inherit his deceased husband’s property, she became the fourth judge in three weeks to declare the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Two-thirds of the marriage equality suits in Florida have gotten favorable rulings this summer, and at least two may head directly to the state Supreme Court.
Because of the stays issued for each of the four rulings, couples in the Sunshine State aren’t rushing to the altar just yet. However, the pace the rulings are taking in the state’s biggest counties heartens those involved in the suits.
“Things are moving faster than we thought,” says Todd Delmay, who, along with his partner Jeff, is part of a suit in Miami-Dade County. “I think a lot of it is simply the courts, and the public, realizing the need to move this along.”
The first case to move along was in Monroe County, which includes Key West. On July 18, a judge there ruled that the statewide ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and directed the county to begin issuing licenses immediately. An appeal by State Attorney General Pam Bondi put marriages on hold after a few days of frantic celebration in the Keys, but a similar case from South Florida hit the spotlight just eight days later. On July 25, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel ruled that the Delmays and five other couples suing in that county be allowed to wed. That ruling was also stayed after Bondi filed an appeal. Finding themselves with similar complaints and similar outcomes, the plaintiffs decided to combine their efforts take them directly to the Florida Supreme Court. The court has not yet decided whether to grant the petition to merge the suits.
This Monday’s ruling in Broward County involved the request of a Florida woman wishing to legally dissolve a civil union she and her former partner received in Vermont in 2002. The plaintiff was concerned the woman, with whom she has since lost touch, could be exercising spousal rights in other states that she herself couldn’t access in Florida. Tuesday’s decision dealt with inheritance of Palm Beach County property after the death of a partner in an out-of-state marriage. Theoretically, judges in these two cases could have filed very specific rulings, allowing the Broward County woman to divorce her ex-partner and the Palm Beach man to inherit his husband’s property without extending that same marriage recognition to couples statewide. However, they instead took the opportunity to review the language and purpose of Florida’s marriage ban, a state constitutional amendment ratified in 2008. By considering the ban as a statewide issue in their rulings, the judges have put pressure on any higher courts to take a similar tack when they hear the cases.
Marriage is just one of many issues important to LGBT communities, but as a concept so engrained in the operations of government, from taxes to parental rights to inheritance and family security, it presents a unique opportunity for same-sex couples to access thousands of legal rights. So making it a priority means putting the protection of families at the forefront of efforts.
“It’s more than just simply rectifying a small need,” Todd says. “Marriage itself will address so many other issues for people, with all the legal rights, but also the responsibility that comes with it and the protections that it guarantees.”
Because of the stays issued for each of the four rulings, couples wishing for marriage licenses in the Sunshine State aren’t rushing to the courthouse yet. But Jeff and Todd say they believe they’ll get there, and in the process set an example for their four-year-old son, Blake.
“We wanted our son to understand that it’s important to speak up for your own rights,” Todd says. “When there’s a wrong, if you can stand up and contribute to the solution, you should. You’re really obligated to make this world a better place.”
Kaitlyn Jakola is a freelance writer, editor and photographer living in New York.
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