July 3, 2014 at 12:04 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Judge hears Fla. marriage lawsuit

Catherina Pareto, Karla Arguello, Florida, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello are among six same-sex couples challenging Florida’s gay marriage ban in state court. (Photo courtesy of Erik Olvera/National Center for Lesbian Rights)

A Miami judge on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by six same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights in Florida.

The Miami Herald reported that Jeffrey Michael Cohen and Sylvia Walbolt, who represent the plaintiffs, asked Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel during the two-hour hearing to strike down the state’s gay nuptials ban and allow same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses. Assistant Florida Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum defended the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Mat Staver, chair of the Liberty Counsel, also defended Florida’s marriage amendment on behalf of Florida Family Action, the Florida Democratic League and People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality.

“The future of civilized society depends on protecting permanence and exclusivity in family structure,” said Staver. “The people of Florida could rationally find that the risks to family stability posed by redefining marriage to include same-sex couples are not a price they are willing to pay.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality Florida, which is a plaintiff in the case, filed the lawsuit in January. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in March filed a separate lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee on behalf of eight same-sex couples who are legally married in other jurisdictions.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running against incumbent Gov. Rick Scott as a Democrat, last week filed an amicus brief with the state circuit court that asks it to overturn Florida’s gay nuptials ban. The former Republican while in office backed the marriage amendment that voters approved in 2008.

Attorney General Pam Bondi in May argued in court documents her office filed in the federal lawsuit that the recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions would “irreparably harm” Florida.

Same-sex couples can legally marry in 20 states and D.C.

More than 20 federal and state courts have ruled in support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians since the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver last week struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. A federal judge on Tuesday ruled Kentucky’s gay nuptials prohibition is unconstitutional.

The issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples is widely expected to go before the U.S. Supreme Court next year.

“We are optimistic that the judge will rule in favor of equality and fairness, as judges across the country have, and strike down this ban,” said Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith after Zabel heard oral arguments. “The tide has turned, and the day is coming when anti-gay marriage laws will meet the same fate as laws banning interracial marriage that limited my parents’ options.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

1 Comment
  • I am one of the plaintiffs in the Federal Case that was filed first in North Florida, before the ACLU suit. However, Judge Hinkle has linked the two suits, Ours has two couples one that was married in Canada in 2009 and one that is NOT married. The ACLU has 9 couples (although one of the couples is a single person because her spouse passed away several months ago). All of the articles I have seen about the Federal Suit focus on the ACLU and repeat over and over that this suit unlike the one in Miami is to recognize marriages performed OUTSIDE of Florida. That is simply not the case and I am not sure how to get the message out that the suit filed by two law firms from Jacksonville on Feb 28th, 2014 has both married and unmarried couples.

    Could you help with this – and although the Miami case was heard in court yesterday, the Federal case filed all of its paperwork on May 27th. We would expect that Judge Hinkle will make his decision known very soon.

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