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Legal challenge could overturn gay-marriage ban in Florida

Six couples file suit in Miami saying ban fosters discrimination and stigma against same-sex couples

Photo: Courtesy of Equality Florida, License: N/A

Courtesy of Equality Florida

Fighting the good fight: (left to right) Stratton Pollitzer, Nadine Smith, Summer Greene, Pamela Faerber, Shannon Minter

Photo: Photo by Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A

Photo by Carlos Amoedo

Mary Meeks

“At whatever point we go to the Supreme Court, you want to be able to say 20 out of 25 districts ruled this way,” Meeks says, saying that it brings the “weight of precedent and authority” to the case. “It’s for such a simple, fundamental, legal concept. When even conservative-appointed judges will look at the legal issue, it’s pretty clear.”

Meanwhile, the fight continues in the state Legislature this year to advance a bipartisan statewide domestic-partnership bill; a similar bill received its first hearing, after years of unsuccessful attempts, in 2013.

“As you know, the legal process takes a long time. I think it’s great that this monumental and historic step is being taken, but it’s going to take years,” Meeks says. “Yes, this is the big cheese. But while we’re fighting for that, there are still people that need the lesser protections from the statewide domestic partnership registry.”

That could present a messaging conundrum. During last year’s presentations on the matter, one of the most outspoken opponents of gay marriage and same-sex domestic partnerships in the state, Florida Family Policy Council president John Stemberger, would often argue that domestic partnerships are little more than a gateway to gay marriage. Stemberger released a statement after the Jan. 21 lawsuit announcement – seemingly caught by surprise – indicating that he and his conservative allies would not be backing down on the issue.

“Today’s lawsuit is nothing more than a publicity stunt,” Stemberger wrote. “Filed in Miami, it represents ‘forum shopping’ in the most liberal legal venue in the state. However, we are confident that Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi will provide a vigorous defense of Florida’s long-held law, and in doing so, will expose the radical views and overreaching legal positions set forth in today’s lawsuit. The Florida Family Policy Council will vigorously defend the victory of 2008 and the constitutional mandate from Floridians that marriage is between one man and one woman. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens volunteered to see marriage protected in Florida, and we will not sit idly by and watch leftist groups try to undermine this common-sense legal precedent. We will spend as much time and money as necessary to oppose those who seek to redefine marriage in Florida. The six same-sex plaintiff couples in this lawsuit appear to be very sincere and are certainly free to self-define themselves and have private civil-commitment ceremonies. But they, and the activists who motivated them, are not free to redefine a fundamental human institution which has served civilization since the beginning of time.”

Because this is a constitutional challenge, Attorney General Bondi has received a copy of the complaint.

Equality Florida statewide field director Michael Farmer dismisses the substance and the tone of Stemberger’s latest volley.

“If you look at Stemberger’s ranting press release, you have the crumbs that are left from the decrepit old-school argument people continue to have,” he says. “It comes off as arrogant and heartless.”

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