Six couples challenge Florida’s gay marriage ban

  • From left, couples Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz; Jeff and Todd Delmay; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber have teamed up with Equality Florida to bring marriage equality to the Sunshine State. Not pictured: Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello.

As the fight for marriage equality gains momentum, a handful of unlikely states have emerged as battlegrounds for the issue: New Mexico. Utah. Oklahoma.

Now, Florida can be added to the list. This morning six same-sex couples from the Miami area teamed up with Equality Florida to file a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Sunshine State’s gay marriage ban.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, argues that Florida’s legislation barring gay couples from marriage is unconstitutional because it denies them “the legal protections and equal dignity” that having the freedom to marry provides.

“Today the majority of Floridians stand with us as we take this historic step toward marriage equality,” said Nadine Smith, Equality Florida CEO. ”These couples have been embraced by their families and communities, but every day, Florida laws are denying them the protections and dignity that every family deserves. These harmful laws are outdated and out of step. It is time for all families in our state to have full equality under the law.”

The couples at the heart of the lawsuit are Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier; Todd and Jeff Delmay; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz. Four of these couples are currently raising children, while another has an adult child and two grandchildren.

They are represented by the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, attorney Elizabeth F. Schwartz, attorney Mary B. Meeks and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Pareto and Arguello have been together for 14 years and have a 15-month-old son.

“Florida is our home, it is where we are raising our child, and where we want to get married,” Pareto said. “Karla and I wish for our family the same things that other families want. We want to build our lives together, provide a safe and caring home for our child, and share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage.”

Greene, who has been with Faerber for 25 years and helped her to raise her daughter from another marriage, expressed concerns about their legal protections as they age.

“As Pam and I get older, it worries me that we do not have the legal protections that marriage provides in case one of us becomes ill or dies,” she said. “Getting married in Florida will provide us with those important protections and it will allow us to celebrate that joyous occasion with all our family and friends, just as other couples can.”

The Florida Family Policy Council has already announced it would defend the state’s 2008 mandate that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. “Today’s lawsuit is nothing more than a publicity stunt,” said John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the group, in a statement.

He added, “Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens volunteered to see marriage protected in Florida, and we will not sit idly by and watch leftist groups try to undermine this common-sense legal precedent. We will spend as much time and money as necessary to oppose those who seek to redefine marriage in Florida. “

Last June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has buoyed marriage equality advocates around the country. Though doing away with DOMA didn’t have an immediate effect on Florida, where same-sex marriage is banned, gay Floridians can still reap the federal benefits in their home state.

But there's a long way to go, said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida.

“You can see people’s hearts and minds shifting state by state across the country,” he said, but gay Floridians should be treated equally under the law in their home state in addition to being protected by federal benefits.

In addition to the lawsuit, Equality Florida is in the midst of a Get Engaged! campaign, calling for straight allies and LGBT individuals to step up and pledge their support of the issue while raising awareness.

“We aren’t content to sit and wait to some day, somehow have equal rights,” Pollitzer said. “We intend to fight.”