Orange County Commission signs onto brief in support of marriage equality

By : Jamie Hyman
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Orlando – In a 5-2 vote, the Orange County Commissioners decided to sign onto amicus briefs in support of marriage equality. The briefs will be filed in the ongoing Florida lawsuits fighting for same-sex marriage.

Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russell proposed that the board take on the issue, and moved to vote in favor. Commissioner Jennifer Thompson seconded. Mayor Teresa Jacobs, vice mayor Pete Clarke and Commissioners Ted Edwards, Thompson and Moore Russell voted in favor of the measure. Commissioners Fred Brummer and Scott Boyd voted no.

About a dozen citizens spoke about the issue at the Commission’s regular Oct. 14 meeting, with just two speakers opposing the County Commission supporting the brief. Joanne Rodriguez, whose partner of 13 years, Liz Molina, is dying of cancer, presented a moving testimony. Rodriguez said her partner initially responded to treatment and they made plans to expand their family – right now, Rodriguez is 34 weeks pregnant with Liam, a sibling for Molina’s daughter Bella. When the cancer returned, and spread, Molina did not have insurance and because they were unable to marry, she couldn’t go onto Rodriguez’s insurance.
Molina was without treatment for about four months, during which Rodriguez said her partner’s health and hopes declined. In July, Molina was given 2-6 months to live.

“We pray that she is able to meet our son; a son that is not going to be recognized as hers because we’re not legally married,” Rodriguez said. “Marriage equality would have lifted our medical burdens and it may have given us more time together.”
Rodriguez pointed out that marriage also would have allowed their son to be recognized as Molina’s, entitling him to social security benefits.

“It may be too late for me and Liz, it may be too late for our family, but it doesn’t have to be too late for other same-sex families,” she said.

Two Rollins faculty members testified, and one presented letters in support of marriage equality signed by Rollins faculty plus faculty and students from other schools.

Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s transgender inclusion director, told the Commissioners about her daughter, who is a lesbian engaged to her partner. Duncan found out this past weekend that she is expecting her first grandchild.

“[My daughter and her partner] would like to bring this baby into this world within a married loving household,” Duncan testified. “With your input, you can help make that happen.”

Mary Meeks, who is a member of the legal team fighting for marriage for six South Florida same-sex couples, pointed out that anti-gay organizations are filing briefs denouncing marriage equality.

“Standing silently by empowers the haters,” she said.

Other speakers in favor of signing onto the brief argued for marriage equality’s economic benefits.

The only two anti-gay speakers were Charles and John Norris, regulars at government meetings where LGBT protections are on the agenda.

“To pass this brief is to say we are on the side of those who deny nature and our creator,” Charles said, and his brother argued that gay people are “unfortunately led astray by their emotions and their passions.”

At the close of public comments, Moore Russell moved to request that the item be discussed early because of the speakers and advocates present. It was decided that the Commissioners would approve the consent agenda, take a short break, then discuss the brief.

Before the board moved on, Orange County Comptroller Martha Hayne, who has long been a supporter of LGBT equality, asked to speak. She said she learned about the inequalities suffered by the gay community during her time in office, and was “chagrined” to learn how much work was left to do.

“After all years in public service, I am still somewhat surprised at the power of my voice. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to put my name in support of this brief on marriage equality and I hope that you will join me,” Haynie said, addressing Jacobs and the board.

Jacobs retorted that she put forward the domestic partner registry for Orange County, “notwithstanding the revisionist history we’ve been hearing about. Not with a gun to my head.”

She mentioned that she expressed her support for marriage equality in an August interview with Watermark “without pressure from [Haynie] or anyone else.

“I’ll make my decision based on my own conscience,” Jacobs said.

After the recess, the commissioners discussed the issue for about 20 minutes.

Commissioner Clark said he’ll support the brief, stated that he’ll “sleep well tonight.”

Commissioner Boyd said he supports the marriage equality but doesn’t feel it’s the Commission’s place to sign onto the brief, and Commissioner Brummer, the other dissenting vote, did not comment.

Commissioner Edwards said the issue should be decided by the courts but recognized that the issue is important to his constituents.

“My preference would have been to let the courts decide, but since Commissioner Moore Russell put us in the hot seat, I’m going to support the amicus brief,” Edwards said.

Mayor Jacobs considered adding an amendment that would request the constitutional officers who asked Commissioners to support the amicus brief to sign on as well, but withdrew the amendment.

Five out of the six county constitutional officers support the marriage equality brief.

Meeks was not surprised the measure passed, although she said Mayor Jacobs made public comments several days before the vote indicating it wasn’t within the Board’s purview to sign onto the brief.

“We were pleasantly surprised that she changed her position at the last minute and joined the majority vote,” Meeks said. “It certainly sends a much stronger message to have the Mayor on board, and I applaud her for doing the right thing.”

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