Today, six same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute are filing a lawsuit in Florida state court in Miami seeking the freedom to marry. The lawsuit argues that Florida’s laws barring same-sex couples from marriage violate the United States Constitution by denying them the legal protections and equal dignity that having the freedom to marry provides. It is likely to go to the state Supreme Court.
The couples are from Miami and the surrounding area. Four of the couples are raising children, and another couple has an adult child and two grandchildren. The couples are: Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier; Todd and Jeff Delmay; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz. They are represented by the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, attorney Elizabeth F. Schwartz, attorney Mary B. Meeks and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
“Florida is our home, it is where we are raising our child, and where we want to get married,” Pareto said. “Karla and I wish for our family the same things that other families want. We want to build our lives together, provide a safe and caring home for our child, and share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage.”
“As Pam and I get older,” Greene said, “it worries me that we do not have the legal protections that marriage provides in case one of us becomes ill or dies. Getting married in Florida will provide us with those important protections and it will allow us to celebrate that joyous occasion with all our family and friends, just as other couples can.”
The ACLU of Florida is lending its support to the lawsuit.
“Marriage equality is inevitable and coming soon for Floridians because brave couples are demanding the dignity under the law that marriage provides,” Daniel Tilley, LGBT rights staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that the court hearing this case will agree with courts across the country that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be permitted to marry.”
Some 38 percent of Americans now live in states that has adopted full marriage equality for gays and lesbians. Eighteen states have adopted such equality–none in the South (Maryland is as far south as equality goes). Every state in new England, New York and New Jersey have adopted equality, as have Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, New Mexico, California, Washington and Hawaii.
Florida banned marriage equality by statute, and again by a constitutional amendment in 2008, when 62 percent of voters approved an amendment banning marriage except between a man and a woman. But public opinion has been shifting since. Last year, a Public Policy Poll found 75 percent of Floridians in favor of letting gays and lesbians wed or be allowed to form civil unions. In October 2012, a Washington Post poll found 54 percent of Floridians favoring full marriage equality, and 33 percent opposed. But a Quinnipiac University poll in December 2012 found just 43 percent of Floridians favoring marriage equality.
Equal Marriage Florida has launched a constitutional amendment petition drive to place a marriage-equality amendment on the 2016 ballot, but that initiative is under suspicion because of its chief backer–Republican strategist Tim Mooney, who ran the marriage-ban campaign in Utah in 2004, and who was a backer of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage.
“Today the majority of Floridians stand with us as we take this historic step toward marriage equality in the Sunshine State,” Equality Florida Institute Chief Executive Officer Nadine Smith said today. Referring to the six plaintiffs in the suit filed today, she said: “These couples have been embraced by their families and communities, but every day, Florida laws are denying them the protections and dignity that every family deserves. These harmful laws are outdated and out of step. It is time for all families in our state to have full equality under the law.”
Attorney Cristina Alonso of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt said: “Courts throughout the country are recognizing that this is an issue of basic dignity and fundamental fairness. We look forward to the day when our clients can celebrate and protect their relationships by getting married in their home state in front of family and friends.”
About the Plaintiffs
Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello have been together for 14 years. Catherina owns and operates a financial planning firm. Karla is a stay-at-home mother to their 15-month-old son.
Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price have been together for nearly 18 years. Juan Carlos is a physician specializing in pulmonary medicine. David is the practice manager for Juan Carlos’s medical practice. They have twins, a boy and a girl, who are three years old. “David and I are devoted to our children,” Rodriguez said. “We are a family in every way, except that Florida will not allow us to marry. Being a doctor, I see people and families in crisis all the time. In those situations, family and the legal protections that come with it are critical. It pains David and me to be denied a basic safety net of legal protections.”
Vanessa and Melanie Alenier have been together for eight years. Vanessa is the assistant general manager of a national trade show and special event service provider. Melanie is an insurance agent. They have a 5-year-old son together. “Melanie and I have worked so hard to build and protect our family, but nothing can come close to matching the protections that marriage provides,” Vanessa said. “Our family is in need of those protections just like other families. We want our son to understand that his family is secure and just as respected as any other family part of our community here in Florida.”
Todd and Jeff Delmay have been together for 11 years. Todd and Jeff own and operate Delmay and Partners, a company that provides housing services for large events. They have one son, who is three years old. “Like all parents, making sure that our son is safe and secure is our top priority,” Delmay said. “Unfortunately, because the State of Florida will not allow us to get married we cannot provide the level of protections that opposite-sex married couples are able to give to their children. Beyond those critical protections, we want the opportunity to celebrate our love and commitment to one another in a wedding ceremony and have it mean something, which the state is currently denying us.”
Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber have been together for 25 years. Summer is a real estate agent. Pamela is a portrait artist. Summer and Pamela raised Pamela’s daughter from a prior marriage and now have two grandchildren, ages 10 and 17.
Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz have been in a committed relationship for a year and recently got engaged. Don is an office manager at a Miami law firm, and Jorge is a paralegal at a Miami law firm. “Both Don and I have very strong ties to Florida and cannot imagine getting married anywhere else,” Isaias Diaz said. “If we could marry, we would be legally recognized as a family and have all the same legal protections as others.”