Six South Florida gay couples filed a lawsuit Tuesday to overturn Florida's "Marriage Protection Amendment" because, they say, it "humiliates" LGBT people and deprives them of rights under the U.S. Constitution.
“Florida is our home, it is where we are raising our child, and where we want to get married," Catherina Pareto, a plaintiff along with partner Karla Arguello, said.
"Karla and I wish for our family the same things that other families want," Pareto said. "We want to build our lives together, provide a safe and caring home for our child, and share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage.”
Filed in one of Florida's most-liberal circuit court systems, Miami-Dade County, the suit is almost certainly bound for the state Supreme Court.
Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court could hear the matter now that more state courts across the country are canceling gay-marriage bans, including those approved by voters. About 17 states have same-sex marriage now; Florida's constitutional amendment banning it was approved by 61.9 percent of voters in 2008.
"Sixty two percent of Floridians have decisively spoken on this issue," said John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council, who helped pout the amendment on the ballot.
"Gay activists cannot win in the marketplace," Stemberger said, "so they have resorted to trying to find renegade courts who have little respect for the rule of law to create social change that would never happen through the people or their elected representatives."
Sine the ban passed, polls indicate opposition to same-sex unions is waning. “Seventy-five percent of Floridians believe that marriage or all the rights of marriage should be provided to same-sex couples,” said Nadine Smith, with Equality Florida, a leading gay-rights group.
But Florida's ban is the law, and Miami-Dade Court Clerk Harvey Ruvin's office had to follow it in denying marriage license to the plaintiffs, who announced their suit Tuesday. Ruvin is named as the defendant.
"Moreover, the challenged laws and Defendant’s actions are subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny because they burden fundamental constitutional rights and discriminate on the basis of sex and sexual orientation."
The suit arrives in an election year. Gov. Rick Scott has indicated he supports the gay-marriage ban. Democratic challenger and former state Sen. Nan Rich has always supported gay marriage.
And Democrat Charlie Crist -- who as the Republican governor in 2008 supported the ban -- now sides with Rich and wants the constitutional amendment repealed.
"No one would want to be told they can’t marry the person they love. It’s an issue of fairness and I’m proud to support it," Crist said in a statement issued after the suit was announced.
Joining Pareto and Arguello in the suit: Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier; Todd and Jeff Delmay, Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber, and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz. They 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.
The couples are all from Miami and nearby. Four of the plaintiff couples are raising children, and another couple has an adult child and two grandchildren.
Their suit says the state constitutional ban violates the U.S. Constitution's Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Says the suit: "In addition to stigmatizing a portion of Florida’s population as second-class citizens, Florida’s prohibition on marriage by same-sex couples deprives those couples of critically important rights and responsibilities that married couples rely upon to secure their marriage commitment and safeguard their families. By way of example, and without limitation, same-sex partners are denied:
a. The right to be supported financially during marriage, enforced by criminal penalties for non-support. Killian v. Lawson, 387 So. 2d 960, 962 (Fla. 1980); Fla. Stat. §§ 61.09, 856.04.
b. The right to be a presumed parent to a child born to a spouse during marriage. Florida Dep't of Revenue v. Cummings, 930 So. 2d 604, 607 (Fla. 2006); Fla. Stat §§ 742.091, 742.11(a).
c. The right to make medical decisions for an ill or incapacitated spouse without an advance health care directive. Fla. Stat. § 765.401.
d. The right to spousal insurance coverage and benefits, when spousal benefits are otherwise available.
e. A host of federal rights and responsibilities that pertain to married couples, including but not limited to, those related to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the Veteran’s Administration.
f. The right to a court-ordered equitable distribution of property upon the dissolution of the marriage. Fla. Stat. § 61.075.
g. The right to receive certain workers’ compensation benefits for a deceased spouse who has died as a result of a work-related accident. Fla. Stat. § 440.16.
h. The right to inherit a share of the estate of a spouse who dies without a will. Fla. Stat. § 732.102.
i. The right to receive an elective share of the estate of a spouse who died with a will. Fla. Stat. § 732.201.
j. The right to priority in appointment as the personal representative of the estate of a spouse who dies without a will. Fla. Stat. § 733.301.
k. The privilege not to have a spouse testify in a court proceeding about confidential communications made during the marriage. Fla. Stat. § 90.504.
l. The right of spouses of military personnel to be eligible to participate in the state’s employment advocacy and assistance program for military spouses. Fla. Stat. § 445.055.