Hopes are high that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage will soon go down in flames, as the historic lawsuit (Pareto v. Ruvin) challenging Florida’s reprehensible ban takes center stage on July 2 in a courtroom in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court. My legal colleagues and I, and our clients—6 amazing couples and the Equality Florida Institute—walk into that courtroom with momentum, and justice, on our side.
Marriage equality currently exists in 19 states and the District of Columbia, covering nearly 44% of the United States population, and is legal pending appeals in another 13 states. Court decisions in 3 other states require recognition of out-of-state marriages. There have been 22 straight court victories in favor of marriage equality, including the first appeals court affirmation in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Florida will hopefully soon join the ranks of those states that fully acknowledge and embrace their LGBT families. Did you ever think you would see that day?
As we sit on the precipice of achieving marriage equality, that achievement foretells a day of reckoning. Once a Florida court rules (in Pareto or one of the other pending cases challenging Florida’s ban) and marriage equality is a reality here in Florida, the battle lines will be frozen in time. There will be those who fought for our equality; and those who opposed it. Those who fought with us will be exalted for their leadership; those who fought against us will forever be enshrined as contemptible bigots.
The fact that those people actively contributed to the oppression of their fellow citizens until the bitter end will never be forgotten. And those apologists who tried to “whitewash” the vile prejudice of those elected bigots, for selfish personal or political reasons, will also be condemned in history for their betrayal of their community.
History will condemn the leaders of the Republican Party, who even today write legislation grounded in the 19th Century beliefs of despicable anti-gay organizations like Family Research Council and the Southern Baptist Convention, and include that institutionalized bigotry in their official party platforms. Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi will be condemned for cynically taking their marching orders from hateful extremists like John Stemberger and his Florida Family Policy Council.
Our Republican state legislature will be condemned for having summarily killed every gay rights bill ever introduced in Tallahassee. So-called Republican “moderates” like Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who has whispered sweet nothings in our ear while stabbing us in the back, will rightfully be condemned for her cruel indifference. And history will especially condemn Florida’s officially-designated anti-gay “hate groups,” like Mat Staver’s Liberty Counsel, the purportedly “Christian” ministry/law firm that represents all the rabidly anti-gay groups and earned its designation for purposefully spreading false and vicious propaganda about gay people.
Because of the people above, Florida’s LGBT families (real live human beings) have been denied the dignity of having their relationships recognized, and have suffered horribly when faced with real life situations where they lacked the rights that would have protected them had they been allowed to marry. Those people affirmatively supported the discriminatory laws that treat us like second class citizens, and compel us to suffer in times of crisis and grief. And they have done so with no apologies, and oftentimes with glee.
In the words of George Clooney (a man both gorgeous and wise): “At some point in our lifetime, gay marriage won’t be an issue, and everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the University of Alabama because he was black.” Our oppressors, likewise, have stood on the steps of county courthouses and kept us from entering into marriages with our chosen loved ones, only because we are gay.
It is not coincidental to me that this amazing year of LGBT progress has coincided with our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. The heroes from that monumental fight are rightfully celebrated and honored still today. Many of them, like Coretta Scott King and U.S. Congressman John Lewis, looked beyond their own fight and became heroes in our cause as well. They understood, as so eloquently stated by President Obama, that “When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.”
Hopefully, gays and lesbians in Florida will soon be more free, bringing us all closer to that more perfect union that all good Americans seek. At this historic moment in Florida, let’s pause to honor and thank some of the heroes who helped to change the course of history for LGBT citizens, and to bring us to this brink of victory.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have transformed the political landscape for LGBT Americans; legal/advocacy groups like Freedom to Marry, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and National Center for Lesbian Rights (headed by my brilliant Pareto co-counsel Shannon Minter) have tirelessly spearheaded the legal fight across all 50 states; revered celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Oprah Winfrey, gay and straight, have used their public platforms (and their considerable bank accounts) to raise awareness and encourage human connection.
Here in Florida, heroic Mayors like Orlando’s Buddy Dyer, Miami Beach’s Philip Levine, and St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman, took it upon themselves to lead their communities toward fairness and equality; committed and visionary advocacy organizations like Equality Florida and SAVE have educated and rallied for fairness across the entire state; all the lawyers and law firms, including my Pareto co-counsels Elizabeth Schwartz and a whole cadre of fine lawyers at Carlton Fields Jordan Burt, did the necessary and important legal work at no cost; and most certainly the courageous plaintiffs in all of the lawsuits, who bravely put themselves and their families on public display on behalf of us all.
History awaits us in Florida and the Day of Reckoning is almost here. Thank you to the heroes who have brought us to this moment in time. And to the despicable oppressors among us, I am happy to toss you into the trash heap of history—with no apologies.