On Tuesday morning, six same sex couples and LGBT civil rights group Equality Florida filed a lawsuit in pursuit of marriage equality in the Sunshine State. The case is filed against Miami-Dade County Clerk of the Circuit Court – where Florida’s marriage licenses are processed – and argues that the state’s laws barring same-sex couples from marriage are a violation of federal constitutional rights.
Elizabeth F.Schwartz, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, commented in a phone interview, “With over 40 lawsuits pending on statewide bans in other states, it was time. We needed to get into the fray with this issue. We have thousands of same-sex couples, from Key West to the Panhandle, and they’re sick of waiting.”
While all six couples on the lawsuit reside in South Florida, the group has deliberate range in age, gender, and race. Four of the couples are raising children, and another couple have an adult child and two grandchildren. With the case being tried in Miami-Dade County, Schwartz explained, Equality Florida felt it was particularly important to select plaintiffs who would represent the diversity of the area’s LGBT community.
“We have a tremendous immigrant population that knows what it’s like to be discriminated against, and knows what it’s like to be judged unreasonably,” said Schwartz. Accordingly, “Florida has always been at the forefront of social change in the South. If you look at the history of the civil rights movement, Florida was leading us out of segregation before it was much of a hope in the other southern states.” Because of the history and diverse population, many consider Florida a key state in taking the temperature of the United States.
At the Equality Florida press conference on Tuesday, plaintiffs shared their motivations for wanting to join the suit. Summer Greene told how her family tolerated discrimination for decades. Todd Delmay related how he and his partner Jeff created a new last name together. And Cathy Pareto explained how even though she and her partner of 14 years, Karla Arguello, have merged their finances and families and raise a son together, they are legal strangers in the eyes of the state:
According to a March 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling, 75% of Floridians support legal recognition of couples in Florida, in the form of either same-sex marriage or civil unions. This is higher than the July 2013 Gallup reported national average of 52% of Americans who say they would cast their vote in favor of a federal law legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. (A slightly different question, but the numbers are in line with other polls conducted last summer on national support for same-sex marriage.)
While it’s too early to say whether the Florida case will be decided at the state level or move federally, Schwartz is optimistic and expects that they will receive a fair hearing. “We think that the law has sufficiently moved forward,” said Schwartz. “Whatever comes next, we’re ready.”