Our statewide LGBT rights advocacy group, Equality Florida, started the month of May with a flurry of activity. First, on May 1, the lawyers working on behalf of Equality Florida and six Florida couples asked for a ruling from the state court, one that would find the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional without the need for a trial. Then, just two days later, Tampa Bay welcomed the woman who helped make the recent string of nationwide court victories possible. Edie Windsor was feted at the St. Petersburg Gala, which also recognized the team at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, the law firm representing the current Florida lawsuit in court.
The St. Petersburg Gala was held at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. If any of you haven’t had the chance to attend a show or a benefit there, its position right there on the water is breathtaking and glorious. The Hotspots team was honored to attend the VIP reception right before the gala, and we got to sit for a portrait with Edie Windsor before the special awards ceremony. Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith gave the Voice for Equality Awards to Anastasia Hiotis, the Chief Operating Officer at the law firm of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, and to the firm itself. Finally, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman presented Edie Windsor with the Key to the City.
The gala was absolutely beautiful. Hundreds of Equality Florida supporters, including such well-known names as U.S. Representative Kathy Castor and Florida’s former Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, were in attendance. When it came time for Nadine Smith to speak to the sizable gala crowd, she expressed her admiration for the people in the state of Florida for progressing the cause of LGBT rights in the past year, and she named recent successes. She then talked about Edie Windsor, the woman of the hour, and admitted that she watched the documentary “Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement” before coming to the gala, and that it made her a little emotional! Finally, to great fanfare and applause, Edie Windsor was introduced so she could make her keynote speech. The main point she made was that she is so used to being thanked for her role in the dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act that she never gets the chance to thank others for the work that they do every day to advance LGBT equality. When she thanked the audience, she was greeted by yet another warm round of applause. She then posed for a photograph with a longtime friend.
Now let’s revisit the Equality Florida marriage equality case, currently waiting to be heard by a state court. On Thursday, the lawyers (from Voice for Equality Award-winning law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt) representing the plaintiffs asked the court to rule the same-sex marriage ban, passed by popular vote in 2008, to be ruled unconstitutional without the need for arguments on either side. Should the judge agree that the same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional without the need for arguments, the state of Florida will appeal immediately. Most likely, the judge will ask for both sides to prepare arguments and both sides will have their day in court.
In St. Petersburg, Equality Florida asked supporters to “get engaged” and make a donation. Great news: the organization met their fundraising goal for the gala, meaning an extra $200,000 will go toward advocacy work, which will help them fight for rights everyone should be allowed to enjoy. By “getting engaged,” we are moving that much closer to life in a state where our dignity will never be called into question again.