Politics Unusual: Marriage Equality Gains Momentum

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Every week, there seems to be more and more news on the Marriage Equality front. As courts across the country prepare for continued litigation, we thought it was time for an update on where we stand, not just here at home in Florida, but also in other parts of the US where the fight is really heating up.

In Florida, litigants are attacking anti-marriage equality laws from different perspectives. From couples fighting for the right to marry, couples looking for the state’s recognition of their marriages legally performed in other states, and even a couple suing to have the state recognize their divorce, since January, members of Florida’s LGBT community are asking the courts, from Key West to Tallahassee, for equality.

Hotspots told you about the original lawsuit filed in the Sunshine State back in January. Six couples along with Equality Florida and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a suit in a Miami state court seeking the freedom to marry in Florida. The lawsuit argues that laws in Florida that restrict marriage to different-sex couples violate the United States Constitution’s commitment to equal protection under the law. More info on this lawsuit

March proved to be a monumental month in Florida’s fight for marriage equality. Across the state, 3 lawsuits were filed representing 10 couples.

In Brenner v. Scott filed on March 6, James Brenner and Charles Jones, both of whom worki for the State of Florida and who were legally married in Canada in 2011, filed a federal lawsuit seeking recognition and respect of their marriage. The couple have named Gov. Rick Scott and FL Attorney General Bondi in their lawsuit.

Sloan Grimsley and Joyce Albu are the lead plaintiffs in Grimsley and Albu v. Scott a federal lawsuit filed on March 13 by the ACLU of Florida on behalf of eight married same sex couples seeking recognition of their marriages that were legally performed in states where marriage equality is already on the books.

Perhaps the strangest, and certainly the saddest of the marriage equality lawsuits filed in Florida was filed on March 17 in Hillsborough County. Shaw v. Shaw is an uncontested divorce petition which requests that the state recognize a couple’s marriage solely for the purpose of filing for divorce.

On April 2, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones filed suit against the County Clerk of Monroe County after she denied the couple a marriage license in Key West. Just last week Hotspots Editor, Mike Halterman had the chance to speak with Huntsman and his lawyer about the case and why they chose to sue the Clerk directly. Hotspots coverage of Huntsman v. Heavilin

Fortunately for LGBT couples across this great country of ours, Florida is not the only state where lawsuits have been filed. According to Freedom To Marry, a national organization fighting with the LGBT community for marriage equality, there are 61 lawsuits in 29 states and Puerto Rico, a US territory.

Most recently judges in Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, and Texas have ruled in our favor, stating that their state’s ban or constitutional amendments are, in fact and in practice, unconstitutional. In each state, the rulings have been stayed and are pending appeal.

On April 10, oral arguments were heard in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Kitchen v. Herbert, where 3 Utah couples successfully fought to have the state’s anti-marriage equality law declared unconstitutional. You may remember that in December of last year, a judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and more than 1300 couples were able to legally marry before the Attorney General and Governor of Utah asked the Supreme Court of the United States to issue an emergency stay until the appeal was heard in the 10th Circuit. As of press time for this article, the outcome is not known Hotspots will bring you an update as soon as it is available.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will also hear oral arguments on April 17 in the case of Bishop v. Smith, a case that the plaintiffs have been fighting since 2004! Just this past January, US District Judge Terence Kern ruled that Oklahoma’s laws banning marriage equality are unconstitutional but he issued a stay on the ruling pending the appeal that will be heard on April 17.

It’s plain to see that we are winning the war for marriage equality, but the fight is far from over, marriage_2especially here in Florida. Heroes continue to emerge from all facets of the LGBT community; some are gay and lesbian couples, some are lawyers who support our cause, and some are judges, who are not afraid to take a stand and recognize that equality applies to everyone.

As these cases play out in court, we will continue waiting with our fingers crossed for more good news. It’s likely that we won’t win all of the battles, but so far this year, we are 9 for 9 and the goal is to convince the Supreme Court to hear another landmark LGBT case and get a ruling that will over turn these unconstitutional laws in all the states where they still stand. We are on our way.