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Michael Putney: Lawsuit not about gay marriage — the fight is for marriage equality

BY MICHAEL PUTNEY
MPUTNEY@WPLG.COM

It was a moment of stark contrasts the other day at the Dade County Courthouse: gay vs. straight, well-to-do vs. working class, secular humanists vs. evangelicals, gay lovers vs. homophobes.

What brought them together physically and separated them philosophically was gay marriage. More than 200 people — hard-core supporters and opponents of gay marriage — tried to jam into historic old Courtroom 6-1, where Judge Sarah Zabel was to hold a hearing. So many spectators they had to open an adjacent courtroom outfitted with a large TV. It was there that the anti-gay-marriage group, wearing Respect My Vote signs, broke into Amazing Grace. They were answered by the pro-gay-marriage group, which began chanting, “Marriage equality, marriage equality.” Police moved in to defuse the demonstration, but the passions on this issue will not soon be quelled.

The tide is running fast in favor of same-sex marriage. It has been since the Supreme Court last year struck down key provisions of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. The court said the federal government must recognize all legally performed marriages of same-sex couples. Since that ruling, some 23 courts have struck down state bans as unconstitutional.

The judges — of all political stripes and persuasions — have ruled the bans violate the Constitution’s equal-protection and due-process clauses. And those guarantees trump voter-approved bans.

In half a dozen states, the attorneys general chose not to defend the bans in court because they saw the handwriting on the wall (and the court orders) and concluded they’d lose. In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi sat on the sidelines for several months, but finally announced a few weeks before the Miami-Dade hearing that she would defend Florida’s ban. In her court filings, Bondi said that, “Disrupting Florida’s existing marriage laws would impose significant public harm.” She failed to say exactly what the harm would be because there would be none. Still, Bondi’s arguments got a big thumbs-up from groups such as the Christian Family Coalition of Miami, which praised Bondi for being “on the right side of history.”

But she’s not.

Bondi is defending the indefensible. Yes, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2008 that said marriage can only be between “one man and one woman.” As if multiple partners would somehow be involved.

But there’s been a seismic shift in public opinion on gay marriage since that constitutional amendment was approved.

I voted against it, but at the time thought that legal recognition of civil unions was adequate to protect the rights of gay and lesbian couples. I was wrong and in time came to see that banning same-sex marriage is profoundly unfair. Also un-American. If two people of the same sex love each other and choose to put their lives together as a married couple, why should the state prevent it? As Pope Francis said of homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?”

The judgmental should have a serious talk with the six same-sex couples who are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit before Judge Zabel. These are thoughtful, accomplished men and women who have made loving, lifetime commitments to each other and want their unions to be recognized by the state and to enjoy the benefits flowing from that. The plaintiffs were chosen well, the perfect poster couples for gay marriage. Most of have been together for many years; several are raising adopted children. As their attorneys noted in oral arguments, if the state recognizes their legal right and ability to adopt and raise children, then the state should also recognize their right to wed.

Judge Zabel should rule in their favor. Her questions in court indicated that she has read all the previous court decisions on this issue. I don’t see how she can allow Florida’s ban to stand. And if she does, then the Third District Court of Appeal will strike it down.

Perhaps that’s why the people who support the state’s same-sex marriage ban seem so desperate, so angry, so hurt. Listening and talking to them in the courthouse before the hearing and outside afterward, it’s clear that they see same-sex marriage as deeply offensive. Unnatural. Un-Godly. And an affront to their own marriages. It is their right, of course, to think so.

They also have a right to question why a judge can set aside a referendum approved by 62 percent of Floridians. But majority rule is not always constitutional rule. The question Florida voters were asked in 2008 simply violates some basic tenets of American life and jurisprudence: that all people must be treated equally under the law and receive due process. Gays and lesbians have been denied both in Florida when they tried to get married.

Judge Zabel can remedy that, and here’s hoping she will — and that the Third DCA upholds her along with the Florida Supreme Court.

The question truly is no longer about gay marriage. It’s about marriage equality.

Comments

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When will a decision be out. I am hoping and praying the right to marriage equality in Florida will finally be recognized. I have a loved one who is bisexual and very young. To see how it hurts her to realize she has so many obstacles that others do not when it comes to being treated fairly is just heartbreaking.

A decision is expected from either judge in Miami-Dade or Monroe counties at any time.

A well-written article. I continue to be astounded at what seems to be utter amazement from the anti-marriage equality crowd. They just cannot seem to draw any parallels from history and are completely ignorant of it. They seemed stunned a judge can overrule voters - yet we have a long history of Constitutional decisions doing just this. Where have they been for the last 200 years?

There are so many civil rights cases in our history ranging from the women's right to vote to inter-racial marriage in 1967 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965. Yet, despite our history, the marriage equality concept legality seems completely alien to them. Has no one taken Law 101? Perhaps, a civics class in high-school?

I am all for marriage equality. But, if the anti-crowd wants to stop it, all they need do is provide an argument against it that will prevail in court. High-end legal teams have tried in any number of cases and all have failed. Why is that? It's simple, there is no legal justification against marriage equality. The teams have failed to show "perceived harm." "Hoping and wishing" for something else does not trump facts.

Frankly, the anti-crowd should learn how our legal system works and then put-up or shut-up.

Michael Putney wrote a wonderful article on the same-sex marriage issues here in Florida. I wanted to comment that I was actually in that second, "overflow" courtroom the other day when the arguments were heard before Judge Sarah Zabel.

Roughly 99% of those in the overflow room were ignorant "Christians" -- sorry, but Jesus would not have recognized them! -- very loud, wearing those ridiculous Respect My Vote stickers. (On children as young as six and as old as sixteen, the logic escaped me. No way had they voted on that constitutional amendment in 2008! But logic was not the forte of these individuals.)

I want to comment on the preacher-led singing of the wonderful hymn, Amazing Grace, that broke out in this crowded overflow courtroom. First, they massacred the song. It is one of my favorite hymns and I have never heard it sung so badly. That bothered me.

Second, the gentleman who started the "Marriage Equality" chant did it in response to this singing. I joined in. If these people could get away with singing, surely we could get away with chanting, right?

No, not at all. The officious-to-the-nth-degree courtroom cops came in and dragged the chanter out -- he was gay, by the way -- whilst doing nothing to the hymn-singers or the preacher who'd led them in song.

And, also by the way, he had stopped chanting -- we had stopped chanting -- when this officer told us to stop. They took him out, anyway. I said nothing because I'd gotten a seat and did not want to be kicked out, but as I was leaving the two-hour session, I confronted this cop and told him what I thought of his behavior. To be fair, I said to him, you should have kicked out the preacher and all those singers, but you did not. Your prejudice could not be more telling, I added.

Like he could care less! But I got this off my chest.

Alas, those that day in that courtroom were so ignorant, so full of hate. Ignorance and hate may well destroy us all. I have faith, however, that Judge Zabel, who struck me as impartial and intelligent, will make the right ruling.

This is a constitutional issue, not a religious one.

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