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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 4 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 27
Judge hears Marriage Equality case in Florida as major cities pass resolutions in favor
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Judge hears Marriage Equality case in Florida as major cities pass resolutions in favor

by Viktor Bogatko - SGN Contributing Writer

Florida is perhaps the most infamous state as far as politics are concerned, and the past few weeks of political and legal drama surrounding marriage equality in the state have been no exception.

Fortunately, it appears this time the Sunshine State is poised to be on the right side of history, as a federal judge hears a case on the state's Gay marriage ban and major cities declare their support for marriage equality.

Circuit judge hears arguments
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel heard arguments on Florida's Gay marriage ban on Wednesday afternoon, in what many believe will be a historic ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, six same-sex couples seeking the right to marry.

Attorneys representing the same-sex couples asked the judge for a summary judgment in their favor. 'Justice delayed is justice denied, so we hope the court will act swiftly,' said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a plaintiff in the case.

Sylvia Walbolt, an attorney for the six couples told Zabel that Florida's Gay marriage ban discriminates against Gay and Lesbian couples, just like the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) did.

'The essence of DOMA was to create inequality with respect to the right to marry. That inequality demeans, burdens same-sex couples in numerous ways, some mundane, some profound. And it humiliates their children and stigmatizes them,' Walbolt explained.

Jeffrey Michael Cohen, another attorney representing the couples, reveled in the timing of Wednesday's hearing.

'It's fitting, I think, that we're here arguing this very, very significant issue on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights bill that was enacted by Congress. We're also two days from the birthday of our country, a country that was founded on the concept of liberty, freedom and equality of all of our citizens,' Cohen told Zabel. 'That is all that we seek today.'

Throughout oral arguments, Judge Zabel's questions seemed to challenge supporters of the ban as she brought up the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, and asked if heterosexual 'couples past their prime' should be allowed to get married if they cannot procreate.

'Isn't that the same argument made in Loving v. Virgina?' she interrupted an attorney defending the ban when he claimed that same-sex marriages were 'not part of long standing history and tradition.'

Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum, representing the state, did not address whether or not Gay people should be allowed to marry. He said the people of Florida spoke when they approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2008, by almost 62 percent, to prevent Gay marriage.

Like many of her colleagues, Judge Zabel took notice of the numerous state and federal rulings striking down Gay marriage bans in other states - including one in Kentucky on Tuesday - since the Supreme Court's ruling on the federal marriage act.

'What about the flood of cases that has been coming down?' Zabel asked a lawyer for groups supporting the current ban.

After a brief pause, the lawyer took a deep sigh and replied that they had all got it wrong. 'They misread the Windsor ruling,' he stated.

Outside the courtroom, the drama was less civil and more tense as protestors for and against same-sex marriage chanted slogans for nearly an hour after the court adjourned. Both sides used megaphones and individual exchanges between demonstrators flared, with one Gay-marriage supporter asking someone on the other side, 'How can we respect you, if you don't respect our rights?'

Judge Zabel did not immediately rule and gave no indication on when she would, but one thing is certain in this legal battle - the losing side is sure to appeal the decision.

Major cities pass same-sex marriage supporting resolutions
While opponents of same-sex marriage stiffen their rhetoric at the courtroom, the rest of the state seems to be endorsing marriage equality at an unprecedented rate. Indeed, the speed at which major cities here are lining up to back same-sex marriage is remarkable. Just a couple of weeks ago Fort Lauderdale joined Miami Beach in passing a resolution in favor of marriage equality. In a 3-2 vote in favor of the resolution, the only opposition came from Mayor Jack Seiler and Vice Mayor Romney Rogers.

Local residents of Florida's most Gay friendly city took the mayor's opposition personally, calling it a 'betrayal,' and a 'slap in the face' to the LGBT community.

'I voted for him the first time, but I certainly won't do it again,' one resident declared.

Last week, Orlando joined the club by passing its own resolution urging the state to overturn its ban on same sex marriage, and this progressive city's mayor voted in favor of the resolution.

'The City of Orlando is incredibly proud of the steps we've taken, including the implementation of the City's domestic partnership registry, that have made Orlando one of the most inclusive cities in America,' Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said in a statement. 'Our city remains committed to equality.'

Miami Beach's mayor issued a similarly supportive statement when his city passed its own version of the resolution May 11th.

'Our city is really pro LGBT. It's important for us not to be pro LGBT by word, but more importantly by action,' Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said after the Miami Beach commission passed its resolution. 'Miami Beach, we want to make it the most progressive, pragmatic in America. These types of initiatives are part of that vision and our mandate.'

Attorneys representing both Orlando and Miami Beach filed a joint motion in Wednesday's hearing.

While these city resolutions are promising, they are only part of a massive pro-LGBT movement that is occurring in Florida.

The state voted to ban same-sex marriage with 62 percent of the vote in 2008. Today, the majority belongs to pro-Gay marriage advocates, with the most recent polls showing support nearing 60 percent, with a poll in 2011 showing 67 percent of Floridians supporting some form of recognition.

In December of 2012, former Republican Governor Charlie Crist switched parties and this May, he declared his support for same-sex marriage. He was recently endorsed by the state's largest Gay rights group, Equality Florida, in his bid to retake the governorship as a Democrat.

And just a couple weeks ago, the fourth largest state made history by producing the first openly Gay male African American federal judge.

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