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Same-sex couples Wednesday will ask Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel to let them marry now

BY STEVE ROTHAUS
srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Six same-sex couples from throughout South Florida on Wednesday will ask Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel to rule immediately and order County Clerk Harvey Ruvin to issue them marriage licenses.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, so we hope the court will act swiftly,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a plaintiff in the case along with the six couples: 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.

It is unlikely Zabel will decide Wednesday from the bench. She has deliberated several weeks on previous motions in the case.

Smith is expecting Zabel’s decision will come soon. “I’m very optimistic that this judge will, as judges all across the country have, will find the ban unconstitutional and rule on the side of fairness and equality for our families and our children.”

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled Kentucky’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional. Eighteen gay marriage cases have been won in federal and circuit courts across the country since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck a key portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

Supreme Court justices determined the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, but did not address whether state marriage bans are legal.

Florida’s ban was approved in 2008 when almost 62 percent of voters amended the state Constitution to prevent gay marriage, along with recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and domestic partnerships.

Eladio José Armesto, chairman of the conservative Florida Democratic League, believes Florida voters had the legal right to amend the state’s constitution.

“If Judge Zabel is competent to understand the constitution,” she will throw out the plaintiff’s challenge, Armesto said Wednesday. “She will realize this lawsuit is constitutionally offensive and it seeks to have her violate the constitution from which she derives her authority, and which she swore to uphold when she took her oath of office.”

Armesto doesn’t expect that will happen.

“We are prepared to fight judicial tyranny and to defend and uphold the Florida Constitution and the voter rights of Florida citizens,” he said. “We have said from the very beginning this is not about marriage. It is about defending the due process and equal protection rights of all citizens, including the plaintiffs as well.”

In January, Equality Florida Institute and the six couples sued Ruvin to issue them marriage licenses. The plaintiffs are represented by the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, attorney Elizabeth F. Schwartz, attorney Mary B. Meeks and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Ruvin’s office has not vigorously defended the ban. “We filed our affidavits. What we’re contending is the marriage license bureau is purely ministerial,” Ruvin said last week. “We’re prepared to follow any directive of the court.”

After the six couples sued Ruvin, two Key West men sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin for a marriage license. Heavilin also is not actively defending the state’s gay marriage ban. On Monday, attorneys for Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones will ask Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia to allow the men to wed.

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.

Bondi herself will not be in the Miami-Dade courtroom Wednesday. The state will be represented by Chief Deputy Solicitor General Adam Tanenbaum, a 1996 Georgetown University law grad who has worked throughout Florida.

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