Equality Florida, ACLU target overturning Amendment 2

By : Staff Report
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In 2008, more than 60% of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that prevents same-sex marriages from being performed or recognized in the Sunshine State. But after rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court in June declared a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and dismissed Proposition 8 in California, Floridians are hopeful that someday marriage equality could arrive in our state.

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s marriage ban may be the most viable option, but according to Equality Florida, that option must be pursued with care.

“The wrong case poorly timed could do more harm than good,” the organization said in a statement.

Currently, Equality Florida is soliciting stories from Florida couples who are willing to be potential plaintiffs in a legal challenge to the amendment. Through its new campaign and website, GetEngaged.org, the organization has already enlisted more than 200 submissions from potential plaintiffs. The initiative is part of Equality Florida’s partnership with Freedom to Marry, a national organization seeking marriage equality in the United States.

With any legal battle, finances must be in order, and according to Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the battle is off to a strong, financial start.

“A record number of people took part in this year’s Equal-a-thon and shattered our fundraising goal with $251,000 in gifts and pledges,” Smith said. The original goal was $200,000.

Those who donated were given Get Engaged shirts, and Smith encouraged donors to “wear your t-shirts proudly and let the world know you are engaged in Florida’s fight for marriage equality.”

Organizers of the lawsuit have not said when the paperwork would actually be filed, mostly because timing is essential when it comes to success in such an endeavor.

“To maximize the chance of winning and to avoid jeopardizing lawsuits already pending in other states, a legal challenge needs to be thoughtfully timed,” the organization said in a statement. “The few successful lawsuits that have won marriage equality…have shown that it takes more than a strong argument and justice to win. It also takes the right legal building blocks, constitutional litigation expertise, extensive background in LGBT legal issues and millions of dollars in attorney time, expert witness fees and costs.”

The Sunshine State has changed quite a bit in five years, when those 62% of voters passed the ban on marriage equality. Recent polls show that 54% of voters in Florida support marriage equality for same-sex couples, according to a Public Religion Research poll. Another poll conducted by Public Policy Polling shows that 75% of Floridians now support providing all the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples through either marriage or civil unions.

That poll also shows that 23% oppose same-sex couples having any legal protections at all.

While the poll numbers are encouraging, they aren’t quite strong enough yet to move forward with a ballot referendum in Florida, according to a joint statement released by Equality Florida, Freedom to Marry and the ACLU.

“Rather than a rush to the ballot in 2014 with time, resources, turnout, and polling stacked against us, it is better to invest in the tried and proven public education campaign that has helped to accelerate the shift in public opinion in states where victories have been achieved,” the statement says. “We can reassess how significantly those numbers have shifted after a solid year, leaving ourselves ample time to prepare for 2016 or 2018 as a more favorable time for taking the issue back to the ballot.”

While fighting for marriage equality is a large undertaking, Smith is adamant that Equality Florida will continue to fight for equality in other Florida arenas.

“We’ll continue our campaigns to pass non-discrimination policies, domestic partner registries and anti-bullying policies throughout Florida,” she said. “Wherever there is an opportunity to advance equality in our state, we’ll be there and we’ll be ready.”

To get involved in the campaign to overturn Florida’s Amendment 2, visit GetEngaged.org.

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