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Gay Key West men sue for right to marry in Florida after Monroe clerk’s office denies couple a license

BY STEVE ROTHAUS
srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

A gay couple in Key West sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin on Tuesday after her office refused to issue the men a marriage license.

“We want the right,” said Aaron Huntsman, 43, who has been partnered for more than a decade with William Lee Jones, 42.

Huntsman and Jones, both bartenders at 801 Bourbon Bar on Duval Street, want to wed on June 10. “It’s going to be our 11-year anniversary being together and the 10-year anniversary of our commitment ceremony on the Las Vegas strip.”

Ron Saunders, general counsel for the clerk’s office told the Florida Keys Reporter that Heavilin’s staff had no choice but to deny the men a license. "Until it changes or is found unconstitutional, it is the law. No clerk in the state can do anything until a judge rules otherwise or the law changes."

The men’s 17-page lawsuit mirrors a case filed in January by six same-sex couples and Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBT-rights group. They sued Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin after his office declined to issue the men and women marriage licenses. That case, assigned to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel, is pending.

“Obviously both suits are seeking to declare the law unconstitutional. From that perspective the cases are the same,” said the men’s lawyer, Bernadette Restivo of the Key Largo law firm Restivo, Reilly & Vigil-Fariñas. “We don’t represent a big interest group. We represent Aaron and Lee. Our focus is Aaron and Lee. In the end, we’ll all accomplish the same thing.”

Restivo said her firm is perfect to represent Huntsman and Jones. “We’re three heterosexual law partners who have looked at this issue. this is about constitutional law. This is about human rights and treating people as equals.”

The case has been assigned to Monroe County Chief Judge David Audlin, Restivo said.

Audlin made headlines in 2008 when he ruled Florida’s 1977 gay adoption ban unconstitutional. The state chose not to contest his ruling, making Wayne LaRue Smith and Dan Skahen the first openly gay adoptive parents in Florida. Two years later, the state stopped enforcing the adoption ban altogether.

In addition to the local lawsuits, eight same-sex Florida couples legally married elsewhere in the United States last month sued the state in federal court to recognize their unions. Miami-Dade LGBT-rights group SAVE, the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida are also part of the federal suit filed in Tallahassee.

Florida has never granted same-sex couples the right to marry. In 2008, nearly 62 percent of voters amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage, along with recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and domestic partnerships. Conservative activists have said they would fight any move to overturn the gay-marriage ban.

Huntsman and Jones are longtime Keys residents who met years ago at a gay pride celebration. Huntsman, at the time, was the reigning Mr. Pride.

He and Jones are “just two normal guys” wanting to get hitched. And Key West is the appropriate city for Florida’s gay-marriage ban to fall, Huntsman said.

“I really feel Monroe County — Key West — if it's going to be done anywhere, it’s going to be done here. We have a history. It's a little more open,” he said. “Miami’s beautiful, Miami’s Miami. But people come down here and expect something like this to happen in Key West. We’re going to change it here.”

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