BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Fearing same-sex couples may soon be allowed to wed in Florida, conservative activists have filed a motion in Miami-Dade Circuit Court defending the 2008 state law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
In January, six same-sex couples in South Florida sued Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.
“This lawsuit threatens to disenfranchise millions of Floridians who voted to affirm natural marriage, and to supplant the clearly expressed will of a super majority of Florida's voters with the radical vision of homosexual activists who cannot win at the ballot box,” according to a statement by Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative First Amendment constitutional advocacy group in Orlando.
“Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized,” according to the motion filed Tuesday.
The Liberty Counsel motion is on behalf of several other conservative groups including Florida Family Action, People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality and Florida Democratic League.
"The six same-sex plaintiff couples in this lawsuit appear to be very sincere and are certainly free to self-define themselves and have private civil commitment ceremonies,” Florida Family Action President John Stemberger said in a statement. “But they, and the activists who motivated them to file this suit, are not free to redefine a fundamental human institution which has served civilization since the beginning of time.”
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, an elderly widow denied IRS recognition because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That ruling did not address whether Florida or other states could ban same-sex couples from marrying or whether those states had to recognize legal marriages performed elsewhere.
Miami Beach attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, one of the lawyers representing the six couples, said the Liberty Counsel motion is not a surprise.
“We know that groups like this seek to intervene all the time,” Schwartz said. “Their arguments are increasingly out of step with the public and were rejected by the Supreme Court in Windsor. “We remain optimistic that Florida’s fair and open-minded courts are going to strike down this law because it does nothing but hurt families, without helping anyone,” she said.
The six couples are: Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz of Miami. Equality Florida Institute is also a plaintiff.
“We remain focused on having our day in court,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, the state’s leading gay-rights group. “Their increasingly shrill tone and desperate arguments are just a sign that there is really no place to stand and to justify this continued discrimination. We’re not really concerned with their theatrics. We’re concerned with going to court and standing up for our spouses and our children.”
The case has been assigned to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel.
“Our primary concern is that if the circuit judge ignores the plain language of the law of the land, then its very possible that all the plaintiffs would go to the clerk of the court and immediately get married,” Stemberger said. “We’re seeking to intervene. If there’s no opposing party, then somebody needs to defend the law.”
Neither Ruvin, nor Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, have said they will defend the 2008 Florida marriage amendment, approved by about 62 percent of voters.
“That’s why we filed the motion,” Staver said. “The clerk is not defending the law. he’s just taken a neutral position. The clerk filed a response that their just performing a ministerial function. The attorney general has not intervened. We felt it was necessary to intervene to defend the law.”