Monday, January 5, 2015

Woo-hoo! Florida Becomes 36th State with Marriage Equality!


Gay Marriage Starts in Florida Jan. 9th, but sooner in Miami-Dade.

I was beginning to think marriage equality would never come to Florida, my home and third largest state! With a Governor, Rick Scott, who has switched parties and claimed only a 1% victory, his contender, Charlie Crist, who was reputed to pay hush money for his gay trysts, and an Attorney General whom I’ve derisively dubbed “Blondi Bondi, who herself has been divorced twice, yet is against same-sex marriage, you can understand why I’m pleasantly surprised!  Like Bondi, Former Jeb Bush is also in favor of the state defining gay marriage as well as adoptions by gay couples.

Russ and Schlariet Initiate Change

Ozzie Russ, 48, and Steve Schlariet, 66, have been a couple since 2004.  In 2001, they had a commitment ceremony in Ft. Lauderdale, a gay-friendly town. They live in the rural Florida Panhandle where they raise horses and dogs.

Last March, they entered the county clerk’s office in Washington County to get a marriage license, much to no avail.  As Florida, at that time, did not allow same-sex marriages, they were told that they couldn’t be issued a marriage license!  They filed a lawsuit.

This lawsuit, as well as that of a same-sex Tallahassee couple who wanted their Canadian marriage recognized by Florida, became the basis for U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s August 21st ruling that the state’s 2008 same-sex marriage ban, approved by voters, is unconstitutional.

Until January 6, Hinkle stayed his ruling to allow time for the state to appeal his decision. Because no higher court overruled Hinkle, gay marriage will become effective at 12:01 EST on January 6.  The ruling applies to all 67 Florida counties.

Some counties such as Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Holmes Washington, Jackson, Calhoun, Liberty, Franklin, Wakulla, Baker, Clay, Duval, and Pasco (above Tampa) in the comservative panhandle have threatened to close their marriage bureaus to everyone so they don’t have to perform these same-sex marriages.  However, Judge Hinkle reports that every county must follow the orders.

Miami-Dade County First For Florida’s Marriage Equality

Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel ruled last July that the ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, but stayed the order at the end of that month.  Her judgment was based on her hearing of the case, Pareto v. Ruvin, brought by six same-sex couples in January of last year.

According to Zabel, “the state’s ban on gay marriage serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society.”

Momentum for Gay Marriage

Seventy percent of Americans live in states with marriage equality. This statistic is the equivalent of approximately 216 million people.  The surge from 19 to 35 states that allows gay marriage in just two months has been the result of court decisions, not voters or elected representatives.

According to Public Religion Research Institute, a majority of Floridian voters (57%) support marriage equality.

The Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT activist organizations are now concentrating their marriage equality efforts on the reluctant states in the Bible Belt as well as a handful of Midwestern states. With Republicans controlling both Houses, it will be interesting to see the outcomes!