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Cover 07/24/2013

Florida’s LGBT advocates explore options for overturning state’s marriage ban

In the wake of the DOMA decision, LGBT Floridians navigate rocky road to equality

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There was certainly cause for celebration as an estimated 5,000 people, many wearing red shirts, crowded around the Lake Eola bandshell on June 27 for a hastily assembled Marriage Equality Rally, pulled together to show support for same-sex marriage. The event came just one day after the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor, a major decision that ruled that the denial of federal benefits to same-sex married couples was unconstitutional and, on top of that, insulting. It was a sentiment echoed in most of the speeches given at the rally, a sort of exasperation after 40 years of fighting for federal recognition for LGBT couples. It was a long time coming.

“We will not stop until every couple has the right to live their lives out loud,” former Orlando police chief and potential Orange County mayoral candidate Val Demings intoned. “We are not going anywhere.”

And it’s a good thing because, even though the Supreme Court decision turns DOMA on its head, Florida’s state constitution places a ban on gay marriage. Passed by popular vote in 2008, Amendment 2 ensures that the rights of gay couples in the Sunshine State are still being denied. A handful of federal rights are legally up in the air for same-sex couples who were married in one of the 13 states where gay marriage is legal but are residing in Florida – specifically those rights involving immigration, federal employee benefits, and military and civilian staffers of the U.S. Department of Defense – but the lion’s share of the 1,138 rights conferred by civil marriage remain out of reach for same-sex couples.

On the same day that the Supreme Court ruled on Windsor, it punted on the Proposition 8 case: It allowed California to resume gay marriage, but did nothing to roll back the marriage bans in the constitutions of 35 states that passed them. As a result, a national consortium of civil liberties and gay rights groups are attempting to devise a strategy to move the issue forward, while individual states simultaneously launch their own initiatives. Though there are glimmers of hope, each requires significant patience, money and luck. The perceived inevitability of marriage equality isn’t enough to move policy. For Florida, all three paths to equality present a quagmire – Tallahassee, the federal courts, even popular referenda have skewed historically conservative – and maintaining the momentum of Windsor’s symbolic victory will be difficult.

Even now, nearly a month after the historic decision, the urgency of marriage equality for all seems to be fading from the media spotlight. Equality advocates are speaking in soft tones about patience and timing – we have to do this right, we can’t afford to screw up – while LGBT couples anxiously try to cobble together the scraps of rights that may or may not be granted to gay Floridians who were legally married in other states. In just one month’s time, we’ve gone from a historic leap to the dread of an inevitable slog. These are the pathways to real equality being discussed in Florida. None of them will be easy.

Take it to Tallahassee

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