Marriage equality may have to be ‘imposed’ on Floridians

By : Staff Report
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According to the ACLU of Florida, marriage equality will essentially have to be forced on the residents of Florida when same-sex marriage becomes legal across the country. That means equality leaders aren’t optimistic that voters will suddenly rush to the ballot box and approve a measure legalizing same-sex unions in the Sunshine State.

“I don’t want to build up any false expectations that it would be good to run back to the ballot right now, or that it would be good to think that we should file a lawsuit any time until the hearts and minds change more and the environment changes a bit more,” ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon told the Miami Herald.

In all, 37 states have laws banning marriage equality, which has created legal chaos for same-sex couples who live in those states but are legally married in others. On June 26, more chaos was created when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that the federal government must recognize legal marriages of same-sex couples married in the 13 states that allow it and the District of Columbia. The ruling also mentions legal marriages from international locations.

“Legal experts and community activists at the national and state level are exploring all the options for challenging those bans — legislative action, ballot referendums and legal challenges,” according to a statement released by Equality Florida, the ACLU of Florida, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal.

It’s unlikely Florida’s 2008 Amendment 2, which defined marriage as between a man and woman, could be overturned at this time, said Nadine Smith, Equality Florida’s executive director. At least 60% of voters must approve the addition or repeal of an amendment to the State Constitution. Recent polls show a shift in support for marriage equality, but those numbers only reach 54% in favor.

“There are two places that we’re really investing,” Smith said. “When you look at the places where marriage equality has come, through the legislature or through the ballot, it’s preceded by a deep investment of a public education campaign that humanizes these issues.”

A petition drive to put marriage equality on the 2014 Florida ballot is already underway and is spearheaded by political strategist Vanessa Brito of Miami.

“In three weeks, we collected nearly 40,000 signatures,” Brito told the Herald, adding that if polling in January shows the measure can’t pass in November 2014, she would hold her petitions two more years.

The ACLU and other groups believe Florida will get full gay-marriage equality only when the rest of the United States gets it.

“The ACLU is working now to secure the equal right to marry nationwide by following up our U.S. Supreme Court victory in the Windsor case with lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina,” Simon said. “An extensive analysis of the national landscape makes it clear that, given the political environment in Florida, including the decidedly unprogressive state of our federal appeals court, we are more likely to secure the right to marry for Florida’s same-sex couples from victories in other states than by initiating either a lawsuit or a referendum in Florida.”

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