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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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In a statement issued on July 9, the national group Freedom to Marry bypassed Florida in its list of goal-states through 2016, saying, “Freedom to Marry is working to win four states by 2013-2014 – Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon – and laying the groundwork to win at least six more states by 2015-2016 (some mix of Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia), while teeing up states for post-2016 (and recognizing that others could be added to the mix based on changing circumstances). With strategic lawsuits to be filed, Freedom to Marry will continue to work closely with our legal partners on state-specific public engagement strategies.” The group estimates that its three-year initiative will cost upward of $100 million.

Wherever the cases are brought, the arguments are likely to be the same. “We now have the U.S. Supreme Court saying – it’s not exactly on point, and it’s not exactly the same issue – but you have the court saying that it is unlawfully discriminatory to treat married gay couples differently than married straight couples,” she says, “unless the state can prove some legitimate governmental reason for doing that.”

In effect, she continues, the roles have been reversed. Where previously, the presumption was that the government was acting legitimately on any gay issue, now the state will be required to justify its discriminatory actions.

“Any government that has discrimination – and there’s no way to say that marriage amendments are not discrimination – it’s now going to be incumbent upon the state to have to come up with some legitimate governmental interest served by that,” Meeks says. “And it cannot be moral disapproval or ‘We think heterosexual couples are somehow more deserving.’ You can’t even argue that anymore. That is out of the box.”

But as promising as that argument sounds, warns Daniel Tilley, LGBT policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Florida residents shouldn’t get their hopes up for anything extraordinary anytime soon.

“The important takeaway is that there is great language in that [Windsor] opinion, but there’s also bad precedent in the 11th Circuit, which is where we live,” he says.

On July 16, a coalition of national- and state-level equality advocates (including the ACLU) released a statement warning against litigious haste. “Premature lawsuits filed by individuals without considering all of these factors could be very harmful to this effort,” the statement read. “A federal appeals court is unlikely to revisit its own recent rulings, and an adverse decision could set the goal back for years or even decades.”

Hearts and minds

Exactly one week before the Supreme Court decision, Equality Florida and Freedom to Marry launched Get Engaged (imengaged.org), an online initiative with the dual purposes of fundraising and encouraging more real-life discussions about the difficulties same-sex partners face in Florida.

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