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Equality Florida Moves on Gay Marriage Ban in Florida.

With court victories being arguably more successful than ballot initiatives in the ongoing national struggle for LGBT marriage rights, Equality Florida, arguably the state’s most active advocacy organization, took a major step forward this week with a legal challenge in Florida courts.

Six same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute filed a lawsuit in Florida state court in Miami seeking the freedom to marry.

The lawsuit argues that Florida’s laws barring same-sex couples from marriage violate the United States Constitution by denying them the legal protections and equal dignity that having the freedom to marry provides.

According to a release issued by Equality Florida, the couples are from South Florida. Four of the couples are raising children, and another couple has an adult child and two grandchildren. The couples are: Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier; Todd and Jeff Delmay; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz. They are represented by the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, attorney Elizabeth F. Schwartz, attorney Mary B. Meeks and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

“Florida is our home, it is where we are raising our child, and where we want to get married. Karla and I wish for our family the same things that other families want,” said Pareto in the release. “We want to build our lives together, provide a safe and caring home for our child, and share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage.”

Added Greene: “As Pam and I get older, it worries me that we do not have the legal protections that marriage provides in case one of us becomes ill or dies. Getting married in Florida will provide us with those important protections and it will allow us to celebrate that joyous occasion with all our family and friends, just as other couples can.”

Attorney Schwartz has long been involved in LGBT legal issues and is a well-respected member of the local legal community.

“As someone who has spent nearly two decades helping same-sex couples and their families achieve some measure of legal protection under Florida law, which gives us very few tools, I know too well just how difficult the process can be and how much vulnerability these couples face,” she said. “The protections we are able to cobble together without marriage pale in comparison to the comprehensive security provided by marriage recognized not just by the federal government but by the State of Florida.”

According to Equality Florida, the couples involved with the suit represent a range of demographic.

Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello have been together for 14 years. Catherina owns and operates a financial planning firm. Karla is a stay-at-home mother to their 15-month-old son.

Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price have been together for nearly 18 years. Juan Carlos is a physician specializing in pulmonary medicine. David is the practice manager for Juan Carlos’s medical practice. They have twins, a boy and a girl, who are three years old.

Vanessa and Melanie Alenier have been together for eight years. Vanessa is the assistant general manager of a national trade show and special event service provider. Melanie is an insurance agent. They have a 5-year-old son together.

Todd and Jeff Delmay have been together for 11 years. Todd and Jeff own and operate Delmay and Partners, a company that provides housing services for large events. They have one son, who is three years old.

Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber have been together for 25 years. Summer is a real estate agent. Pamela is a portrait artist. Summer and Pamela raised Pamela’s daughter from a prior marriage and now have two grandchildren, ages 10 and 17.

Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz have been in a committed relationship for a year and recently got engaged. Don is an office manager at a Miami law firm, and Jorge is a paralegal at a Miami law firm.

“Like all parents, making sure that our son is safe and secure is our top priority,” said Delmay in the press release. “Unfortunately, because the State of Florida will not allow us to get married we cannot provide the level of protections that opposite-sex married couples are able to give to their children. Beyond those critical protections, we want the opportunity to celebrate our love and commitment to one another in a wedding ceremony and have it mean something, which the state is currently denying us.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and its gutting of a controversial anti-gay law enacted by voters, has opened the door further for legal challenges of anti same-sex marriages nationwide, leading to an increasing number of states where such unions are recognized – either because of voter approval or court decision. Months ago, numerous major LGBT rights organizations joined together to support the idea of pursuing the legal, as opposed to legislative, avenues to legalization. Since, Equality Florida has been canvassing for potential couples to join the lawsuit.

This week’s legal challenge represents arguably the first new major shot across the bow to the State of Florida’s largely-conservative legislature and mixed judiciary – a shot that asserts the LGBT community and its allied intend to make change even in Florida.

“The law should support families, not make it harder for committed couples to support one another and protect their children,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, in the release. “Barring same-sex couples from marriage causes great harms to their families and children while helping no one.”

Equality Florida Institute is the state’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The organization has many members throughout the state. Since its inception, the organization has represented the interests of LGBT Floridians through public education, coalition-building, advocacy and grassroots organizing. Equality Florida Institute also coordinates public education campaigns and events for policymakers, LGBT people and the public at large on issues affecting the LGBT community. Equality Florida Institute members include many same-sex couples who long for the freedom to marry and would marry in Florida if Florida law permitted them to do so.  – Jeffrey Perry

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