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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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This one is a long shot, given the state’s conservative leadership, but the Florida legislature could play a role in advancing marriage equality through procedural acts, says state Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando.

“The legislative remedy to the problems that come from the lack of marriage in Florida are limited,” he says. “The state legislature could put a repeal of Amendment 2 on the ballot. They could also repeal the DOMA statutes so that, if and when the [state] constitutional amendment is repealed, we don’t have that one more barrier to move through. I think both of those things are unlikely.”

What is likely, however, is that the old lines of reasoning against gay rights on moral grounds will be affected by the Supreme Court decision. As a result, some legislators may feel more compelled to act on less controversial provisions than full equality, if only to save face.

This year, for example, Saunders was able to convince moderate state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, to co-sponsor the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which would have prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. He suspects that further movement on gay rights bills – including a proposed statewide domestic partnership registry that died in the Florida Senate this year – could come as a result of shifting opinions, both on national and local fronts.

“I think you can’t ignore the fact that one-third of the country now lives in a place where full marriage equality exists, where gay and lesbian families and the people who support them are completely embraced,” he says. “And you juxtapose that to Florida, and all of the sudden we feel a lot more like we’re in the dark ages than we did a [few weeks] ago.”

That slow persuasion isn’t enough for some in Florida. Immediately following the Supreme Court decision, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Nan Rich hopped on the equality bandwagon, writing a ban repeal into her platform. (Her presumed Democratic primary challenger, Charlie Crist, recently came out in favor of gay marriage after supporting the ban in 2006 and 2008.)

Somewhat more perniciously (and equally political in nature), the group Equal Marriage Florida recently filed paperwork to launch a petition drive to attempt to remove the marriage ban from Florida’s constitution in 2014. Equal Marriage Florida is a subsidiary of Our America, a libertarian group co-chaired by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a 2012 presidential candidate who is rumored to be vying for the office again in 2016. That group would have to get 681,000 verified signatures by Feb. 1 in order to be considered for the ballot, a feat that critics think to be a near impossibility. Groups like Equality Florida and Freedom to Marry have been critical of the petition drive, mostly because there isn’t enough time, but also because the expense to run such a campaign might not be rewarded with the desired results. Though 75 percent of Florida voters polled by Public Policy Polling in March said that they favored either civil unions or same-sex marriage, estimates for full marriage support typically fall beneath the 60 percent a ballot initiative would require.

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