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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 has to be strategy and a realistic look at where we are,” Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith says. “The reason Get Engaged is so important is that it is a strategy that has worked in every place – not in the antiseptic language of rights, but in the universal language of love and commitment and family. That’s the important conversation that happens right now. We have to tell the truth about who we are.”

The initiative was launched in advance of the ruling, Smith says, “because we wanted people to understand that, for those of us living in Florida, the victory would not fully encompass us.” The campaign, she adds, has already produced more than 400 couples who are willing to be named as plaintiffs should the group decide to file a lawsuit. In some sense, it’s a means to harbor momentum from the Supreme Court ruling, and to make people feel like they’re doing something to further the cause.

Smith says she realizes that it isn’t the sexy “hard-knuckled political brawl” that grabs the headlines, but she says the slow-and-steady approach has resonated and that’s reflected in the adoption of local domestic-partnership registries and anti-discrimination ordinances. It has forced people to acknowledge that they enjoy rights that others don’t, and it’s framed the debate around humanity rather than policy. “People can campaign with facts and figures,” she says. “But they don’t get to debate their feelings about what happened to you.”

“If you ask people point-blank what protections should your child have that my child should not – we have to call out that question and make them answer that question, because when people are compelled to think about it in those terms, things change,” she says.

For local couple Angie and Tanya Blasingame, the change can’t come soon enough. The two had a commitment ceremony in Orlando in 2005, and were legally married in last year in Massachusetts. They have a 4-year-old daughter together – Angie had the baby, and Tanya adopted as a second parent – and Tanya went to court to change her last name. Asked if they’d be willing to be a plaintiff in an upcoming case, Angie says probably not, mostly for financial reasons.

“I wish we could, but you have no idea how expensive it’s been for us to do any of this,” she says. “We got Tanya’s name changed after the first ceremony; that cost money. It cost money to get the license. It cost a bunch of money to have a child, and for the adoption. We don’t have a lot left. People take for granted how easy it is for them.”

And though the couple was initially excited about the Windsor ruling, they’re still waiting to figure out whether it will someday affect them and their daughter.

“You have that initial moment of ‘Oh my God, this is so exciting.’ You’re cheering with the rest of the country, and then you’re like, wait a minute. But then I always feel like a Debbie Downer,” Tanya says. “I don’t know what it means for us. I know the state ban does seem to supersede everything, and I know that our lovely governor is going to do everything he can to see to it that doesn’t change. I think we do need it broken down in simple terms. Can we file our taxes together? I don’t know.”

To some degree, they didn’t expect much more than they will apparently get. “It’s just a horrible attitude to have, but you know, after you’ve been kicked down so many times,” Tanya says.

“I think the two of us have both educated a lot of people, just by knowing them and talking to them,” Angie says. “People just don’t know. They just don’t understand.”

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