ACLU Sues Florida Officials Over Recognition Of Same-Sex Marriages

The ACLU and others launch another legal battle over gay marriage in Florida. (Photo via ACLU of Florida)

The ACLU and others launch another legal battle over gay marriage in Florida. (Photo via ACLU of Florida)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Advocates have filed another lawsuit this week in the ongoing fight for gay marriage in Florida.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Tallahassee Wednesday night against various state officials. The group is challenging the state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight Florida couples who got married out of state, as well as SAVE– a gay rights organization based in Miami.

This latest lawsuit names Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and other state officials, as the defendants.

Because of a ban enshrined in the state’s Constitution, Florida currently does not recognize same sex marriages performed in other states, even though the federal government does. That’s why advocates in Florida are suing state officials.

According to The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald:

Last June’s Supreme Court ruling invalidated Section 3 of the 1995 federal Defense of Marriage Act, the part that prevented the U.S. government from recognizing marriages like Windsor’s. It did not address Section 2 — the portion that allows states including Florida to not recognize legal same-sex unions. Seventeen states, including New York Iowa and California, and the District of Columbia now marry gay and lesbian couples.

This lawsuit, filed in Tallahassee by the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida and the Podhurst Orseck law firm of Miami, challenges “Florida’s refusal to recognize” the marriages of eight same-sex couples. Those 16 defendants are joined by SAVE, South Florida’s leading LGBT-rights group.

“All around the country, loving couples enjoy the rights and responsibilities that come with a marriage fully recognized by their state, and it’s time Florida couples enjoyed that as well,” SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima said. “Why should couples who commit to love and care for one another lose protections for that relationship when they return to Florida?”

Florida has never granted same-sex couples the right to marry. In 2008, nearly 62 percent of voters amended the state Constitution to ban gay marriage, along with recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and domestic partnerships.

This lawsuit follows another filed this year by the ACLU. The first, which was filed in a Miami-Dade circuit court, challenges the state’s gay marriage ban for the right to marry in Florida.

This latest lawsuit is another effort to directly challenge the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

According to the Associated Press:

The lawsuit is the latest in a groundswell of challenges in America’s divisive gay marriage debate. Within the last 30 days, suits similar to the one in Florida have been filed in Alabama and Indiana. In Kentucky, a federal judge ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states and countries.

…Sandra Newson, who is a plaintiff in the Florida lawsuit with her wife Denise Hueso, said the couple moved to Massachusetts from Miami so they could get married in 2009. They adopted a son, now 15, who has cerebral palsy and they decided to move back to South Florida, where they had more family to help care for him.

When they moved back, they lost legal recognition of their marriage and began encountering a host of difficulties, such as having to prove they are their son’s parents during hospital stays and battling auto insurance companies for seemingly mundane things such as the marriage discount.

Newson said current Florida law undermines the commitment she and her partner made to each other.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in states such as Missouri. However, currently no state with a gay marriage ban has been compelled by a court to recognize marriages performed in other states.

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