Court Date for Gay Florida Couples Suing State Set for July 2
The six same-sex couples who sued the state back in January and are asking a state court to rule that Florida's ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional will have their day to present their case on July 2.
Eleventh Judicial Court Judge Sarah Zabel will preside over the hearing in Miami and will hear from the couples' attorneys as well as the Equality Florida Institute.
"Today the majority of Floridians stand with us, as there is no reasonable argument for discrimination against our families," Equality Florida Institute Chief Executive Officer Nadine Smith said via a news release. "Throughout the nation, courts have ruled that these harmful laws are outdated and out of step, and we believe that equality and justice will prevail in Florida, as well."
According to Equality Florida, the couples' motion, filed on May 1, asserts that Florida's marriage ban cannot stand in light of last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" violates the federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.
A ban on same-sex marriage was voted into the state constitution in 2008.
One of the couples, Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz, recently got engaged after dating for a year.
"Both Don and I have very strong ties to Florida and cannot imagine getting married anywhere else," said Diaz, via Equality Florida. "If we could marry, we would be legally recognized as a family and have all the same legal protections as others."
Little by little, Florida is beginning to recognize same-sex rights.
Just a few weeks ago, Margate's city commissioners approved extending benefits to same-sex couples who were legally married in another state or are in a domestic partnership in a 3-2 vote.
In April, Pembroke Pines ruled to begin offering domestic partner benefits for its gay employees.
In 2013, the Town Council of Palm Beach passed a similar extension, voting to allow benefits for domestic partners, including health and dental insurance coverage, bereavement leave, illness in the immediate family leave, family and medical leave, and domestic violence leave.
In March, Rand Hoch, Florida's first openly gay judge, predicted that marriage equality would come to the state no later than by the end of June 2016.
Last August, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS ruled that it will recognize joint tax returns of gay married couples in Florida. This means Florida residents are able to get married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal and receive federal benefits once they come back home.
But the state still doesn't recognize their marriages, and any gay couple who wants the benefits married couples receive needs to go through the trouble of flying elsewhere to get hitched.
"Melanie and I have worked so hard to build and protect our family, but nothing can come close to matching the protections that marriage provides," said plaintiff Vanessa Alenier of herself; her partner, Melanie; and their 5-year-old son. "Our family is in need of those protections just like other families. We want our son to understand that his family is secure and just as respected as any other family and part of our community here in Florida."
All the plaintiffs in this case are represented by the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, Elizabeth F. Schwartz, Mary B. Meeks, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.