Lawsuit Seeks to Overturn Florida Ban on Gay Marriage

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From our media partner Sun Sentinel:

MIAMI BEACH— – Six South Florida couples who want to get married, but can't because they're gay, said Tuesday they're filing a lawsuit against the state seeking to overturn the Sunshine State's ban on same-sex marriage.

Ten of the 12 plaintiffs, along with the gay rights group Equality Florida and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, announced the filing of their case at a news conference at the Lesbian and Gay Victor Center in Miami Beach.

"David and I are devoted to our children. We are a family in every way, except that Florida will not allow us to marry," said Juan Carlos Rodriguez, of Davie. He and his partner, David Price, have been together for 17 years. "It pains David and me to be denied a basic safety net of legal protections."

During the eight years she's been with Melanie Alenier, partner Vanessa Alenier said the Hollywood couple has "worked so hard to build and protect our family, but nothing can come close to matching the protections that marriage provides. 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."

The lawsuit argues that Florida law banning same-sex couples from marrying violates the U.S. Constitution by denying them legal protections and "equal dignity" that having the freedom to marry provides.

Rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in June advanced same-sex marriage and gave a jolt of momentum to advocates. But they had little immediate impact in Florida, where voters where voters added a ban on same-sex marriage to the state Constitution in 2008. Gay and lesbian Floridians who marry elsewhere and return home can get federal benefits, but the state doesn't recognize their marriages.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, puts a contentious social and political issue on the front burner in Florida. State Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican running for re-election, will face the task of defending the status quo. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, said in an interview last year that he believes in "traditional marriage."

Former Gov. Charlie Crist supported the gay-marriage ban when he was a Republican. Now a Democrat seeking his old job, he switched his position last year, and apologized to the gay community earlier this month for supporting the 2008 ban. Another Democratic candidate for governor, former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich of Weston, has long supported same-sex marriage.

Polling shows Florida voters are roughly evenly divided on the issue, but there are major differences. Democrats and independents are more supportive of same-sex marriage than Republicans, and younger voters are more supportive than older voters.

"Today the majority of Floridians stand with us as we take this historic step toward marriage equality in the Sunshine State," said Nadine Smith, the chief executive of Equality Florida. She said the couples involved in the suit "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."

Going to court is a strategic move. After the Supreme Court ruled, Smith said she thought the best way to achieve same-sex marriage in Florida would be for the courts to act, rather than attempt to get a referendum before the voters – something that many political experts said might not win the required 60 percent vote to amend the state Constitution.

Greg Kabel

Equality Florida put out a call for potential plaintiffs, and the organization's non-profit educational and policy affiliate, Equality Florida Institute, is involved in the case. The plaintiffs are represented by the big law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt; Elizabeth F. Schwartz, past president of the Miami Beach Bar Association and chairwoman of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Association of Miami; and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The plaintiffs include Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood, who have been have been together for 11 years. They own Delmay and Partners, a company that provides housing services for large events. They have one son, who is 3 years old.

Also suing are Summer Greene, a real estate agent, and Pamela Faerber, a portrait artist. During their 25 years together, the couple raised Pamela Faerber's daughter from a previous marriage and now have two grandchildren, ages 10 and 17.

Rodriguez is a physician and Price is practice manager for Rodriguez's medical practice. The Davie couple has 3-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

Vanessa Adenier is assistant general manager of a national trade show and Melanie Alenier is an insurance agent.

Two other couples are from Miami-Dade County.


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