Marriage plaintiffs from more than 30 states, in cases spanning 40 years, gathered in Washington DC on Monday at a special event, “National Marriage Plaintiffs Gathering,” hosted by Freedom to Marry.
“This gathering on the eve of the Supreme Court's oral arguments will allow us to celebrate our decades-long work to win the freedom to marry nationwide, together,” said Freedom To Marry’s Adam Polaski.
In attendance from Florida were Aaron Huntsman and his husband Lee Jones, the two Key West bartenders whose case overturned the Florida ban on same-sex marriage and trounced Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s efforts to block marriage equality.
At the gathering, when asked what a marriage equality victory at the Supreme Court level would mean to him personally, Huntsman said, “This victory will mean that the states will not have the right to invade our privacy and to dictate our rights as Americans.”
Jones added, “ I am confident that the court will discard arguments full of bigotry and nonsense made by the opposition, who have tried to blame all kinds of mayhem including holes in the ozone layer on my marriage to Aaron! I am confident the Supreme Court will see through all of that and make the right decision.”
Also at the event was Florida attorney Nancy Konter Brodzki, who led the state’s first winning same-sex divorce case, Brassner v Lade, in Broward Circuit Court.
“Before I won my case, two Florida judges refused to grant same-sex divorces because they didn’t recognize the marriages involved,” Brodzki said. “The way I see it, the Supremes will consider two questions: is there a fundamental right to marry, and, are states forced to recognize all same-sex marriages? In the case I handled, it was terrible for a couple to be married in Massachussetts and then to be living in Florida and not able to get a divorce. It is what we refer to as being ‘wedlocked.’”
At the reception, Freedom To Marry’s Executive Director, Evan Wolfson, said, “This is such an amazing gathering, where Freedom To Marry is so happy to host all of the plaintiffs we could track down from 40 years in 33 states and 55 cases of fighting and working and telling our stories, and they are all gathered in one room tonight with huge hope for tomorrow and the win we have all worked for. I want to thank The Key West plaintiffs for having the idea for this gathering. We are honored to make it happen.”
At the reception, the earliest case involving marriage equality plaintiffs involved two Hawaiians who, during the seven years it took to bring the suit to completion, had ended their relationship and moved into relationships with other women. Genora Dancel and Ninia Baehr say the case lasted seven years as did their relationship. They are still good friends, and Dancel says, “We still have a lifelong relationship. It’s just not the one we anticipated when we applied for a marriage license.”
Florida’s Tony Lima, Executive Director of SAVE (Safeguarding American Values For Everyone – savedade.org) was at the reception, and said, “It’s so exciting to be here as an operational plaintiff. SAVE was the operational plaintiff in the Federal case that ultimately brought marriage equality to Florida.”
Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes were plaintiffs in the Texas case. “Our case is before the fifth circuit – almost four months now - and it is still pending a decision,” Pharris said.
“Mark and I love each other very much and would love to get married in our home state,” Holmes said. “We’ve been together eighteen years and he’s still so cute.” Phariss added, “We are so confident in the results of the Supreme Court hearing that we have already hired a florist, booked a venue and made all the reservations we need for the date we have chosen to get married in Texas.”
The White House’s Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President of the U.S., toasted the group, saying, “I am a recovering lawyer, so I know that you advocates and plaintiffs have to basically put your lives on hold to do what you do. Our true north in this administration is that no matter who you are, what zip code you grew up in, no matter what your parents did or what your race, or your gender identity, no matter what you believe in or who you love, you ought to be able to have equal opportunity in this country. That’s what we are fighting for. For everybody.”
She drew a clear comparison to the battle for LGBT rights with the battles for rights for the disabled, African-American and Latino communities and for anyone without equal footing, saying, “The right to love who you want is a strength, not a weakness.”