Eight gay couples and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the state of Florida, arguing it is discriminating against the couples by not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal.
The lawsuit is the latest in a groundswell of challenges in the divisive gay marriage debate. Within the last 30 days, suits similar to the one in Florida have been filed in Alabama, Indiana and Arizona, where the lawsuit also challenges the statewide ban on gay marriage there. In Kentucky, a federal judge ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states and countries.
Sandra Newson, who is a plaintiff in the Florida lawsuit with her wife Denise Hueso, said the couple moved to Massachusetts from Miami so they could get married in 2009. They adopted a son, now 15, who has cerebral palsy and they decided to move back to South Florida, where they had more family to help care for him.
When they moved back, they lost legal recognition of their marriage and began encountering a host of difficulties, such as having to prove they are their son’s parents during hospital stays and battling auto insurance companies for seemingly mundane things such as the marriage discount.
Newson said current Florida law undermines the commitment she and her partner made to each other.
“We want the state of Florida to recognize our marriage and our family,” she said.
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said same-sex couples suffer discrimination in many ways. Examples include problems getting spouses covered by health insurance, difficulties with inheritance rules and retirement benefits, and problems with workers’ compensation benefits.
“There is no rational reason for the discrimination that Florida inflicts on married couples,” Simon said.
The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in federal court in Tallahassee, names Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other top Florida officials. It asks a judge to declare Florida’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages as an unconstitutional violation of equal protection and due process rights, said ACLU attorney Daniel Tilley. The lawsuit also asks for a ruling requiring the state to recognize the marriages performed elsewhere.
Scott, a Republican, issued a statement saying he supports Florida’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but added that he “does not believe that anyone should be discriminated against for any reason.” The statement stopped short of endorsing the ACLU lawsuit, however.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. A separate lawsuit filed earlier this year in Miami-Dade Circuit Court is challenging the ban on same-sex marriage that Florida voters added to the state constitution in 2008, one of many similar legal challenges around the country.
The Florida lawsuit follows a decision by Kentucky’s attorney general earlier this month not to appeal a judge’s ruling granting recognition to gay couples married in other states. Kentucky will pursue the appeal using outside lawyers.
Several federal judges have issued rulings in support of same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law. Two of the rulings — striking down same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma — are being appealed to a federal appeals court in Denver.
Joining the ACLU and the gay couples in the Florida lawsuit is the SAVE organization, which advocates for rights and protections for people of all gender identities.