As Opinion Shifts, Equality Florida On The Case For Marriage Equality In Florida
On Tuesday, six same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in South Florida asking for the right to marry.The filing names the Miami-Dade County Clerk as the defendant, alleging that Florida's denial of marriage to same-sex couples is unconstitutional in withholding a fundamental right.
Back in 2008, almost 62 percent of voters amended the state Constitution to ban gay marriage, a stance the American public has moved quickly away from in recent years.
Stratton Pollitzer, Deputy Director of Equality Florida, joined Melissa Ross on First Coast Connect to talk more about the lawsuit and the changing perceptions of gay marriage.
"One of the things that makes this filing so important is that we are now saying, that here in the South, we do not intend to simply wait for justice to one day trickle down," Pollitzer said of the suit.
States from coast to coast have legalized same-sex marriage in recent years on a similar basis, and Pollitzer expects that Florida could lead the way for the southern states that have been historically resistant to legal changes relating to social issues.
Pollitzer said now that the case has been filed, the State of Florida has 30 days to respond.
"The most likely scenario is that we'll be heard in this trial court, and it will wind its way toward the Florida Supreme Court."
The lawsuit comes at a time when Florida is gearing up for a gubernatorial race.
Incumbent Governor Rick Scott (R) opposes same-sex marriage, while Democratic candidates Nan Rich and former Florida governor Charlie Christ support it.
"This has increasingly become an election issue, and now with a clear majority of Floridians supporting marriage equality in many recent polls, we do think increasingly (those) who stand against protection for our families will do poorly with voters," said Pollitzer.
Florida has seen a rapid and dramatic shift in public opinion since the last election with the majority of voters now expressing approval of marriage for same-sex couples.
A recent survey found 75 percent of Florida voters favor allowing gay people either to marry (38 percent) or to have civil unions (37 percent).
Pollitzer believes that people coming to know same-sex families combined with national efforts have created the atmosphere for this change to occur.
"They don't want to deny us the basic protections they have for their own families," Pollitzer said.
Pollitzer also clarified that marriage and civil unions are not the same under the law, and that same-sex couples continue to push for marriage because of the protections it affords.
The gay marriage debate has grown in complexity as more states have made it legal.
Though most federal laws recognize same-sex marriage, couples face difficulties in moving between states that do and do not consider their marriage to be legitimate. This creates much confusion on issues of divorce and social security benefits in the long-term.
Pollitzer pointed out that members of the LGBT community can still be legally fired, evicted, and even kicked out of establishments in Florida.
“There is a real sense that there are two Americas when it comes to the LGBT community: those places where we’re valued and respected in the firm, and then states where we’re not. Marriage is the clearest barometer of all,” said Pollitzer.