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Marriage Equality Faces Challenges in Florida

by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jul 24, 2013

After spending 45 years being engaged, William Baxter and Peter Rocchio, of Winter Park, Fla., recently married at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. But Mary Meeks, an Orlando civil rights attorney, says, "I hate to be the downer [but in Florida] your [out-of-state] marriage certificate doesn't mean a whole lot."

Waternark Online reports even with the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, marriage equality in Florida still has some significant obstacles to overcome.

A forum held at The Abbey in Downtown Orlando on July 17, called "After DOMA: Now What," which was made up of a panel of attorneys, certified public accountants and activists, discussed the challenges same-sex marriage faces in Florida. The experts attempted to answer a variety of questions about gay marriage and the legality of marriage licenses from other states as well as immigration visas, taxes, veteran benefits and estate planning.

Three positive changes came out of the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling, Meeks said: immigration rights, same-sex partner benefits for civilian and military employees of the Department of Defense, and same-sex partner benefits for federal employees. But while marriage provides couples with more than 1,000 legal federal benefits, Meeks says it is going to be awhile before federal agencies look over and fully apply the DOMA ruling in Florida.

While Florida officials figure out how to apply these benefits towards same-sex couples, out political strategist Vanessa Brito of Miami will continue to fight for equal rights and started a petition to put same-sex marriage on the 2014 Florida ballot. Some activists, however, want a statewide referendum to change Florida's marriage laws.

"It's unlikely that Florida's 2008 Amendment 2, which defined marriage as between a man and woman, could be overturned at this time in the state," said Nadine Smith, Equality Florida's executive director, in the Miami Herald.

Rather than spending time and money trying to overturning the amendment, the LGBT group’s officials will focus its efforts on an educational campaign called "Get Engaged."

"There are two places that we’re really investing," Smith said on a radio broadcast. "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."

Meeks sees it in a different way, however. According to Watermark, she believes the "path to marriage equality in the state will be through the courts." The 11th circuit federal court, which presides over Florida, is one of the most conservative and anti-gay courts in the U.S.

"The conventional wisdom is that it would be a bad idea to file a lawsuit right now," Meeks said. "We need to be strategic and unified. We need to create the right conditions to convince our very conservative, anti-gay court to rule the right way."

A referendum would require just over 60 percent of voters to approve the measure. Recent polls report that 54 percent of voters now support gay marriage.

Meeks says that out statistician Nate Silver estimates that 60 percent of Florida voters would stand firm against marriage equality until 2020.

"I never imagined that [what the Supreme Court did] was even possible," said Orlando attorney and Watermark publisher Tom Dyer. "I share your outrage. Don’t suffer silently. It isn’t fair that you can be in 13 other states and be fully married and have your humanity recognized but not in Florida."


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