No ruling so far on marriage equality in Florida

By : Jamie Hyman
Comments: 1

“I will take it under advisement, and have a good afternoon.”

That’s how Judge Sarah Zabel concluded the July 2 hearing on Florida’s ban on same sex marriage. So, no ruling so far.

Zabel heard arguments from both sides on Pareto vs. Ruvin, the lawsuit filed in January by six same-sex couples and the Equality Florida Institute challenging Florida laws barring same-sex couples from marrying.

During the hearing, which lasted an hour and 45 minutes, Zabel frequently asked questions of counsel on both sides. She brought up Loving vs. Virginia, the case that made interracial marriage legal, a number of times, but Matt Staver with the anti-gay Liberty Counsel said that case does not apply in this case because race is not what is being argued.

A representatve from the State Attorney’s office argued on behalf of the defendant but Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi did not appear during the hearing.

The defendant in this case is Harry Ruvin, Miami Clerk of Courts, who did not issue marriage licenses to the plaintiff couples. The anti-gay arguments at the beginning of the hearing primarily focused on bureaucratic difficulties – how would clerks handle changing forms should the judge rule in favor of marriage equality immediately?

Jeff Cohen, attorney with Carlton-Fields arguing for the plaintiffs, responded, “We used to have something called white-out, before computers,” stating that he’s confident the clerks can handle the change.

“We should not make our citizens legally second-class citizens,” Cohen added, arguing that Florida’s families, regardless of gender, deserve to have their rights recognized.

The anti-gay arguments focused heavily on Amendment 2, Florida’s ban on gay marriage which was passed by 60% of Florida’s voters in 2008.

“Votes are fine,” Cohen said. “But this country was founded by people and people are still coming from to this country to escape the tyranny of the majority. This law imposes on them second-class citizenship and that is not tolerable.”

The cities of Miami and Orlando filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs earlier this month. Richard Rosenthal, representing the cities, said that the brief now includes the Villiage of Key Biscayne, which voted unanimously in favor of signing on July 2. Rosenthal argued that the defendant failed to demonstrate any legitimate state interest in barring same-sex couples from marrying.

“The legitimacy of our government depends on transparent and equitable laws,” Rosenthal said.

Mat Staver with the Liberty Counsel was on the stand for the longest time by far.

He argued that summary judgement at this stage is premature because he said the plaintiffs have failed to present the necessary evidence and affidavits. In stating his case, he also cited the Regnerus study, an anti-gay study that has been widely debunked, which claims children in families with same-sex parents don’t do as well as children in heterosexual families.

“This is a huge cultural shift we’re on the precipice of deciding in this country,” Staver said.

Cohen was given time to rebut those arguments, and said the studies quoted before the court are not applicable because they weren’t raised by either the plaintiffs or the defendant.

“They’re not worthy of serious consideration,” he said.

Once Cohen completed his rebuttal, Zabel abruptly ended the hearing.

“I will take it under advisement and have a good afternoon,” she said, and left the courtroom, giving no word on when a ruling might come down.

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