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ACLU: Immediately order Florida to recognize same-sex couples’ marriages performed out of state

BY STEVE ROTHAUS
srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

The ACLU of Florida is demanding Florida immediately recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states or countries.

The rights group has filed a motion in federal court asking U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle “to stop enforcement of the constitution and statutory ban on recognizing the marriages of these couples,” ACLU spokesman Baylor Johnson said.

“Florida’s marriage recognition bans harm all of the plaintiffs represented in the case by stigmatizing them and their children and by denying them access to state and federal protections,” according to an ACLU news release.

In March, eight same-sex couples who married elsewhere in the United States sued Florida to recognize their unions: Sloan Grimsley and Joyce Albu of Palm Beach Gardens; Lindsay Myers and Sarah Humlie of Pensacola; Chuck Hunziger and Bob Collier of Broward; Juan Del Hierro and Thomas Gantt Jr. of Miami; Christian Ulvert and Carlos Andrade of Miami; Richard Milstein and Eric Hankin of Miami; Robert Loupo and John Fitzgerald of Miami; and Denise Hueso and Sandra Jean Newson of Miami.

On April 10, the ACLU amended its complaint by adding another plaintiff: Arlene Goldberg of Fort Myers, whose wife, Carol Goldwasser, died March 13. Goldberg and Goldwasser had been partners for 47 years. They moved from the Bronx to Florida in 1989 and married in New York in October 2011.

“Carol and I loved each other for nearly half a century; we were married. That’s supposed to mean something, but Florida says I’m just a stranger to Carol,” Goldberg said in an ACLU news release.

Goldberg, whose primary income is Social Security, is sole caregiver to her late wife’s parents, ages 89 and 92. Because Florida doesn’t recognize Goldberg’s marriage, she is unable to qualify as Goldwasser’s widow and collect her Social Security payments, which were $700 more each month than Goldberg’s.

The couples are represented by the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida and the Podhurst Orseck law firm of Miami. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Surgeon General and Health Secretary John Armstrong and Department of Management Services Secretary Craig Nichols are named as defendants. The state has until May 12 to respond to the ACLU motion, ACLU attorney Daniel Tilley said.

In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 3 of the 1995 federal Defense of Marriage Act, a provision that prevented the U.S. government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples. It did not address Section 2 — the portion that allows states including Florida to not recognize legal same-sex unions. Seventeen states, including California, Iowa, Massachusetts and New York, along with the District of Columbia, now marry gay and lesbian couples.

The Supreme Court decision led to the ACLU case in Florida, along with similar recognition cases throughout the United States. In January, six other couples sued Florida for the right to be married in the Sunshine State. That case is also pending.

Florida officials have not publicly responded to the lawsuits. The conservative Florida Family Action committee, which led a 2008 campaign to ban same-sex marriage in Florida, sought to be a defendant in the federal case, but Hinkle on Friday denied the request.

“No FFA member seeks to enter a same-sex-marriage or will be directly affected if others enter same-sex marriages,” Hinkle ruled.

FFA President John Stemberger said he is disappointed with Hinkle’s ruling, but believes the judge “will probably deny the motion” to immediately recognize the out-of-state marriages.

“I don’t think there’s any legal basis in what they're asking for unless the judge wants to ignore the precedent and do what he wants personally,” said Stemberger, adding that Hinkle “doesn’t have a reputation of being either liberal or conservative.”

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