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Equality Florida to honor six gay couples suing to marry, 'Cagney & Lacey' star Sharon Gless

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Miami financial planner Catherina Pareto must think outside the box, especially on forms and other legal documents.

“Those boxes read single, married, divorced, widowed. Where do we fit in like that?” said Pareto, who with longtime partner Karla Arguello has sued Miami-Dade County to be issued a marriage license. “I’m not single and I’m not married. But I want to be married. I’ll make my own box that says ‘domestic partner.’ But domestic partner is not married. After so many years together, it gets frustrating. I want to check the box that says married, because I feel like I am.”

Pareto, Arguello and five other same-sex couples, along with Equality Florida, the state’s leading LGBT-rights group, sued Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin in January, after his office pointed to a 2008 state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage. Sunday night, Equality Florida will honor the six couples at the group’s annual Miami gala. Cagney & Lacey co-star Sharon Gless, a part-time Fisher Island resident and longtime gay-rights advocate, will also receive Equality Florida’s Voice for Equality award.

“These six couples have committed to a life in the spotlight, putting themselves and their families under intense scrutiny as the court case progresses,” Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith said in a statement announcing the awards. “They are brave, and they are courageous, taking this important step so that they, and thousands of other couples in Florida, will have the right to marry the person he or she loves.”

Pareto and Arguello, partners for 14 years and the mothers of 17-month-old Enzo, volunteered to join the lawsuit last summer, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of the 1995 Defense of Marriage Act and ruled the federal government must recognize legal marriages of same-sex couples.

The women said they faced a tough choice: to marry in a state like New York or California, where gay marriage already is legal, or to fight for that right at home.

“We don’t want to go somewhere else,” Pareto said firmly.

Even if Pareto, 41, and Arguello, 36, married elsewhere, their legal union still wouldn’t be recognized at home. On Wednesday, eight other same-sex couples married elsewhere and living in Florida sued in federal court for state recognition.

Pareto and Arguello, both with business degrees from Florida International University, met working in a Miami bank. A few years ago, they left banking and Pareto opened a financial planning firm. Arguello got a job, then became a stay-at-home mom after they adopted Enzo. The family lives in Coconut Grove with two dogs.

Both women worry what would become of Arguello if something happened to Pareto.

“I left my job and have no legal protections whatsoever. If we were married, I would,” Arguello said.

The right-to-marry lawsuit is before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel. In late February, conservative activists who campaigned for the 2008 constitutional amendment filed a motion to uphold the ban.

The other Florida couples suing to marry: 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.

Johnston and Diaz met a few years ago through an online dating service. “We were a 94 percent match,” said Diaz, a commercial real estate paralegal and younger brother of former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

Diaz, a lifelong Miami resident, and Johnston have a lot in common. Johnston, born and raised in Tallahassee, also comes from a political family. His father was a Jefferson County judge; maternal grandfather a former Leon County commission chairman and state legislator.

After dating about a year, Johnston proposed in December on Diaz’s 46th birthday.

“We both were in agreement that we didn’t want to get married anywhere else,” Diaz said. “We wanted to get married in the state of Florida where we were raised.”

Johnston, 43, said being legally wed is important to both men.

“Marriage itself matters,” he said. “It was something we dreamed of and never thought it would be possible.”

Johnston, who lives with Diaz in Miami’s Shorecrest neighborhood, described the modern gay-marriage movement as “Anita Bryant in reverse,” referring to the singer and Florida orange juice spokeswoman who led a landslide repeal of Miami-Dade County’s first gay-rights ordinance in 1977.

Recent polls show a majority of Florida voters, especially younger people, now support gay marriage. Johnston said it’s time to overturn the 2008 amendment.

He says it shouldn’t matter that 62 percent of voters approved it at the time.

“Just because something is popular doesn’t mean its right. I think it is perfectly right for a court to take away the right of a majority to bully a minority,” he said. “They singled us out, culled us from the rest of the crowd, laid us out for public ridicule and shame. That was the purpose.”


Equality Florida’s 2014 Miami gala honoring actress Sharon Gless and the six gay couples suing to marry will be 6 p.m. Sunday at Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd. Tickets $150. To purchase or for more information, www.eqfl.org/miamigala.


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