BY STEVE ROTHAUS
Two gay Key West bartenders are prepared to get married Monday in a Plantation Key courthouse if Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia strikes Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.
“That’s all it takes is a walk across the hall. It’s just about 10 feet from the door of the court to the door of the clerk’s office,” said Bernadette Restivo, an attorney for Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who in April sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin for a marriage license.
Huntsman and Jones, both bartenders at 801 Bourbon Bar on Duval Street, are longtime Keys residents who met years ago at a gay pride celebration. Huntsman, at the time, was the reigning Mr. Pride. They wanted to wed on June 10, their 11th anniversary as a couple.
The case mirrors a suit filed in January by six same-sex couples who want to marry in Miami-Dade County. The men and women, along with Equality Florida Institute, sued Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin after his office denied them licenses.
In 2008, Florida voters approved an amendment to the state constitution, by almost 62 percent, to prevent gay marriage.
“The voters in 2008 made a policy decision which they had a right to do as to what the definition of marriage should be in the state of Florida,” Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel in a hearing Wednesday for the Equality Florida suit. “They had that right and it’s not for this court to second-guess or make a determination whether that was a good policy or a bad policy. It remains for this court to simply follow what is binding legal precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court and not to guess what the U.S. Supreme Court may or may not do in the future.”
Tanenbaum, who didn’t address whether or not gay people should be allowed to marry, is also expected to defend the Florida marriage ban at Monday’s hearing in Plantation Key.
Following complaints from conservatives throughout the state that she remained silent for months on the two right-to-marry cases, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on June 24 announced her office would defend the gay marriage ban in circuit court.
Bondi had already begun defending Florida in a federal lawsuit filed last April in Tallahassee by Miami-Dade gay-rights group SAVE and the ACLU of Florida on behalf of eight same-sex couples married elsewhere. That legal challenge maintains the state is discriminating against gay couples by not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal.
The gay-marriage battle is being waged across the nation. A federal judge last week ruled Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. According to the group Freedom to Marry, LGBT advocates have won 23 times in federal, state and appellate courts since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a key portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
Last year, Supreme Court justices determined the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, but did not address whether state marriage bans are legal.
The plaintiffs in the Equality Florida case — 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 — asked Zabel for a summary judgment in their favor. The judge did not say when she would reach a decision.
Keys plaintiffs Huntsman and Jones are also asking for summary judgment. “We’re not doing this to be the first couple to get married. We’re doing this to change the law,” Huntsman said. “Change the law for all Floridians.”