Now that same-sex marriage is becoming legal in states all across the country, could Florida be next?
At least six same-sex couples hope so. They, along with the National Center on Lesbian Rights and Equality Florida Institute, have filed a lawsuit in Florida state court in Miami for the freedom to marry.
The lawsuit argues that Florida’s current laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying are a violation of the United States Constitution by “denying them the legal protections and equal dignity that having the freedom to marry provides,” according to Equality Florida.
Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello are one of the couples suing the state. They have been together for 14 years and want to be married where they live, work, go to church and are raising their 15-month-old son, Enzo.
“Like any other couple out there that has been together, we want to formalize our relationship with a marriage,” Arguello said. “That’s what anyone would like…especially now that we have a son. Obviously, the laws haven’t always been in our favor…but now that it’s a potential possibility, we’re excited!”
“We’ve been together for fourteen years and we adore each other, we’re committed to each other…after [so long] there’s not as much romance, it’s about practicalities,” said Pareto, who runs a business while Arguello takes care of their son at home. “I had long been concerned about protecting Karla and Enzo. We want to get married to solidify our family and have the same protections under the law that any other [married] couple would have.”
They wear rings that represent their commitment to each other, but “currently there is nothing in place that would protect Karla if I were to walk away from the relationship,” Pareto said. “Karla is particularly vulnerable because she left a very lucrative career to care for our son, meaning she will have no further contributions to retirement or social security.”
The couple plans to execute a cohabitation agreement through their attorney for the interim.
“There are at least 1,138 tangible benefits, protections, rights, and responsibilities that marriage brings couples and their kids—and that’s just at the federal level,” according to Freedom to Marry, a national organization that aims to win marriage for all couples nationwide. “Add in state and local law, and the policies of businesses, employers, universities, and other institutions, and it is clear that the denial of marriage to couples and their kids makes a substantial impact on every area of life, from raising kids, building a life together, and caring for one another, to retirement, death, and inheritance. Most of these cannot be secured by private agreement or through lawyers.”
Currently, 17 states allow same-sex couples to marry: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state and Washington, DC.
Change for same-sex couples who want to marry in other states will take time.
“It should be a year or two before we have some more definitive conclusion to it, but I imagine whoever loses at the trial court level will probably appeal – I know we will…probably to the supreme court of Florida,” said Elizabeth Schwartz, co-counselor representing the six couples in the suit.
Nadine Smith, Equality Florida Institute Chief Executive Officer said in a statement, “The majority of Floridians stand with us as we take this historic step toward marriage equality in the Sunshine State. These couples have been embraced by their families and communities, but every day, Florida laws are denying them the protections and dignity that every family deserves. These harmful laws are outdated and out of step. It is time for all families in our state to have full equality under the law.”
Attorney General Pam Bondi has said she will help defend the state from the lawsuit aiming to end the ban on same-sex marriage.
At the annual Associated Press Legislative Planning Summit in Tallahassee on Wednesday, she reportedly told the media present, “If I am asked, yes [I will intervene] because it is my obligation as attorney general. This is a constitutional amendment that voters passed by 60-something percent. My job is to defend that.”
The most recent polling data shows that 75 percent of Florida voters support marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples.