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Eight Gay Couples Married Elsewhere File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Florida’s Rights Violations

| March 14, 2014

The rainbow is not full color in Florida. (Chuck Coker)

The rainbow is not full color in Florida. (Chuck Coker)

Opening another front in the fight against Florida’s gay-marriage ban, eight couples have filed a federal lawsuit contending that the state is violating the rights of same-sex couples married in other parts of the country.

The plaintiffs in the case, filed late Wednesday in federal court in Tallahassee, are Florida residents who were married legally in New York, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and Iowa. They argue that a 1997 Florida law and a 2008 constitutional amendment deprive them of legal rights extended to heterosexual married couples.

The lawsuit lists numerous examples of alleged disparate treatment, such as the state retirement system providing benefits to the surviving spouses of dead public employees who were in heterosexual marriages. Such benefits are not available to surviving spouses in same-sex marriages. Other examples include issues such as the identification of spouses on death certificates; inheritance rights when a spouse dies without a will; and protections against spouses being required to testify against each other in court cases.

“By denying plaintiffs and other lesbian and gay couples the ability to have their out-of-state marriages recognized, the state discriminates against lesbians and gay men on the basis of their sexual orientation by denying them significant legal protections,” said the lawsuit, which also names as a plaintiff the advocacy group Save Foundation Inc.

The lawsuit was filed nearly two months after six couples filed a case in Miami-Dade County circuit court, alleging that the state ban on same-sex marriage violates federal constitutional protections against discrimination. That case is pending.

But state Republican leaders have repeatedly expressed support for the 2008 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Also, Florida Family Action, Inc., a group that helped lead efforts to pass the constitutional amendment, has signaled it will fight to defend the ban.

In a document filed last month seeking to intervene in the Miami-Dade case, Florida Family Action said that a successful challenge to the 2008 constitutional amendment would “undermine the societal norms and social goods arising from the institution of marriage and destabilize the foundational family unit upon which society depends.”

The new lawsuit, filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the American Civil Liberties Union, seeks an injunction directing the state to recognize same-sex marriages that took place in other states. It alleges violation of due-process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In a prepared statement, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down a federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act. That ruling has led the federal government to take steps to recognize same-sex marriages.

“The time has come for Florida to end its discrimination against same sex couples, including those whose marriages are legally recognized elsewhere in our country and by the federal government,” Simon said in the statement.

The lawsuit names as defendants Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state Surgeon General and Department of Health Secretary John Armstrong and state Department of Management Services Secretary Craig Nichols. The Department of Health oversees issues such as death certificates, while the Department of Management Services oversees state-employee benefits.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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6 Responses for “Eight Gay Couples Married Elsewhere File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Florida’s Rights Violations”

  1. m&m says:

    I hope we don’t cave into the whims of ACLU.. Marriage always has been and always should be between a man and a women..

  2. Bill Hazz says:

    Since they got “married” in another state, they should be living there. That is the beauty of state rights. Live in the state that “wants” you to live there.

    Marriage is not a celebration of two individuals of the same gender.

    I have no problem with these “couples” living in this state. I do have a problem with these “couples” getting married in this state.

    In God I trust.

    • Nancy N. says:

      “Marriage is not a celebration of two individuals of the same gender.”

      Says who? Your church? Well sorry but the establishment clause says that you can’t impose your church’s beliefs on the rest of us through the laws of the state. You’re free to believe whatever the hell you want – YOURSELF. You are not free to impose it on those who disagree with your church and you are not free to infringe the basic rights of others in the name of your church. Your beliefs end where the personal rights of others begin.

      I bet your church also says that marriage is a sacrament that has to be performed by a priest or minister. In the state of Florida marriages can be performed by many civil officials – including notary publics, like mine was 20 years ago. This is because marriage registration with the state is a civil contract with the state. If some religious people want to have their registrations blessed by their church, that is their business. But bottom line, in the eyes of the law, standing before a priest does not make you married. Filing that paperwork DOES. Just doing the blessing is meaningless to the government. All they care about is the paperwork.

      In fact, in much of Europe, people who want a church ceremony have to get “married” twice, because all marriages are required to take place in civil registrar’s offices. So either before or after the church ceremony, you have to go down to the registrar’s office and have a ceremony there and file your paperwork, and that date is the legal date of your marriage. Perhaps we should go to that system in the U.S., to formalize the separation of civil and religious definitions of marriage.

      • Tampa Native says:

        The establishment clause of the United States Constitution does not necessarily mean that laws of a state cannot align with the morality of its citizens. The establishment clause simply means that no law can be made that declares and financially supports a national religion. Since the citizenry of this state voted for the 2008 amendment, it implies the majority of the state citizens who voted whether religiously based or not, did not believe that same sex marriages should be considered legal civil unions whether they are performed in a church or not. Since only seventeen states have legalized gay marriages out of 50 I would still say that more that 50% of the U.S. population does not support the idea of these unions.

        Whether someone believes in the fact that homosexuals should be able to legally marry is not always a religious in its nature.

  3. Diana L says:

    It is discrimination, period, these couples are married.

  4. A.S.F. says:

    Frank Ancona, The Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, stated on Thursday that, “because of the acts of a few rogue Klansmen, all Klansmen are supposed to be murderers, and wanting to lynch black people, and we’re supposed to be terrorists. That’s a complete falsehood…We don’t hate people because of their race. I mean we’re a Christian Organization…We just want to keep our race the white race.” They hide behind hoods (which all benign well-meaning people do) and the cross. And, some people, citing their Christian beliefs just as passionately, would treat Gay people the same way while likewise exempting themselves from any judgement about what the effects of their “beliefs” would have on the lives of other human beings. Here’s the bottom line: Using Christianity and religion as a persecutory tool against wholesale groups of other people is wrong. And I believe Jesus would be the first to say so.

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