Tide is turning in South Florida for marriage equality

July 5, 2014 

The fight to defeat a ban on same-sex marriage in Florida is picking up steam. Namely in South Florida, specifically in the Keys and in Miami-Dade County.

On Wednesday, the first significant salvo was fired when six same-sex couples, who in January filed suit in Miami-Dade seeking the right to marry, appealed to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel to force Clerk of the Courts Harvey Ruvin to immediately issue them marriage licenses.

That scenario is a first for Miami-Dade, but likely the beginning of a flood of similar appeals. Zabel says that she will issue her decision in the near future. Either way, she'll be automatically appealed.

Monday on Plantation Key, Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia will be asked to allow Key Westers Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones to marry.

They sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin, whose office issues marriage licenses, on April 1 when they were denied a marriage license. The suit challenges Florida's Amendment 2 -- a 2008 voter initiative pushed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that defines marriage in Florida as "the legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife." Heavilin is not defending the case but state Attorney General Pam Bondi is.

Like the Miami-Dade case, whatever Garcia rules -- for Huntsman and Jones, or for the state -- will likely be appealed.

On the gay-marriage front, progress is slowly, but steadily, being made. Since a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year, bans on same-sex marriage have been struck down by federal courts in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah.

Even Southern states that 150 years ago shed blood for the twisted right to keep people enslaved, and that 50 years ago strenuously resisted removing the shackles of Jim Crow laws, which the Civil Rights Act unlocked, are among those where same-sex marriage bans have been removed by federal courts: Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued deftly calibrated guidance that when state laws relate to basic constitutional issues such as the equal-protection clause, attorneys general should apply the highest level of scrutiny before deciding not to defend them on the grounds that they are discriminatory.

This is not a free pass, but as a result, attorneys general in Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, Pennsylvania, California and Illinois have refused to defend their states' gay-marriage bans. Bondi, who is also defending the Miami-Dade case, could have shown the same legal discretion.

She points to the law, which she is sworn to enforce.

The 2008 constitutional amendment says: "The voters had the right to adopt this definition of marriage, just as they have the right in the future to change their minds and afford legal recognition to same-sex marriage, should they so choose," Bondi wrote.

Still, this tide is turning, sweeping away same-sex marriage bans across the country. Sooner or later, the discriminatory barrier will fall in Florida.

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