MIAMI (CBS4) – Six gay and lesbian couples filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court Tuesday, challenging Florida’s ban on same sex marriages. They want to make the wedding bands that adorned their fingers not just symbolic but legal.
“We stand here for those who have applied for marriage licenses and faced the humiliation of being denied,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida an activist organization that has joined in the couples’ lawsuit along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“We spend our life together as if we are married,” said Melanie Alenier of her relationship of eight years with her partner Vanessa.
The couple, among the twelve people suing the state, has a five year-old son and owns a home together.
“We have been together for 25 years,” said Summer Greene of her relationship with Pam Faeber. They have a daughter and two grandchildren.
Greene said discrimination against Gays and Lesbians evokes her childhood memories of black people not being permitted to stay at her grandmother’s Miami Beach hotel, and Jews banned from membership in some South Florida country clubs.
Kathy Pareta and Karla Arguello have been together for 14 years, have a son, own a home and a business.
“We share our finances together, we go to church together, we serve our community together,” Pareta told reporters, bemoaning the law that forbids them to wed in Florida.
Activists believe the time is ripe for a legal challenge to Florida’s prohibition. Courts across the country have struck down many anti-gay laws, Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia and the United States Supreme Court last year overturned the federal Defense of Marriage act. Because of that decision same sex couples may not be denied federal benefits.
Plaintiffs in the Florida suit say they are standing on principal by not getting married in states where same sex vows are legal.
“Our family is here, our friends are here, our life is here. This is where we want to get married,” said Todd Delmay speaking for himself and his partner of 11 years, Jeff. “We don’t want to get married in another state.”
There is a deliberate legal strategy behind the suit being filed Tuesday in state, rather than federal courts. A Miami-Dade judge previously struck down a Florida ban on adoption of foster children by gay parents. And under current case law, it appears a ruling against the marriage ban – if upheld by the state supreme court – should make the decision final in Florida.
Among those bringing suit are Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz. Diaz’s father was a political prisoner in Cuba, and he feels he is following in his father’s footsteps.
“I think he would be very proud of us taking a stance on this issue and doing what we feel is the right thing, which is what he always believed,” Diaz said of his dad.
In 2008 a constitutional ban on gay marriage was approved overwhelmingly by Florida voters. Nearly 62% voted for the amendment. Gay rights activists are convinced the courts will overturn what they consider the constitutinal equivalent of mob rule.
“Rights, by their nature, are not to be put up to a popular vote,” said Smith of the Florida Equality group. “It is unfortunate that Florida took that route.”
Governor Rick Scott has never waivered in his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Last June he brushed off the supreme court decision on the Defense of Marriage act, saying it had no impact on Florida.
While campaigning in Miami in June of 2010, Scott boasted to CBS4’s Gary Nelson of his own marital bliss.
“I’ve been married for 38 years,” said a beaming Scott. “I’m against gay marriage.”
The governor, and conservative Attorney General Pam Bondi, will most certainly wage a vigorous defense against the lawsuit filed Monday.
But activists are determined, and believe they will succeed in overturning the gay marriage prohibition.
Don Johnston faced a room full of reporters Tuesday and said he and his partner want to be able to legally speak six simple but profound words: “With this ring, I thee wed.”