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Marriage Arrives in the Sunshine State

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Among the plaintiff couples before Judge Sarah Zabel were Todd and Jeffrey Delmay, Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, and Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz. | EQUALITY FLORIDA
Among the plaintiff couples before Judge Sarah Zabel were Todd and Jeffrey Delmay, Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, and Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz. | EQUALITY FLORIDA

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | In 1977, Florida more or less gave birth to the modern anti-gay movement when that state’s citrus industry spokesperson, Anita Byrant, launched her successful Save Our Children campaign against a Dade County nondiscrimination law.

Late in the day on January 5, gay and lesbian couples could be forgiven for putting that ugly legacy out of their minds. In a ruling that day, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted her stay on a marriage equality ruling she issued in July but put on hold pending the state’s appeal.

Zabel changed course at the urging of Equality Florida and the six plaintiff couples in the case because of the US Supreme Court’s December 19 decision not to extend the stay on US District Court Judge Robert Hinkle’s August gay marriage ruling. Hinkle’s stay was scheduled to expire at the end of the day January 5, and the Supreme Court’s action marked the first time it allowed a pro-equality federal district court ruling under appeal and not upheld by a circuit court of appeals to go into effect.

Zabel’s clerk said marriages could begin immediately (before the federal stay technically ended), and the judge agreed to marry two of the plaintiff couples — Karla Arguello and Cathy Pareto, and Jeff and Todd Delmay.

Marriage equality took hold statewide the following day, though, to the last, some jurisdictions resisted. Widespread questions and conjectures about how broadly Hinkle’s August order applied led to that judge issuing an extraordinary January 1 clarification. In response to an emergency motion from the Clerk of the Court of Washington County as to whether she was required to issue licenses to anyone other than the two plaintiffs in the case, Hinkle wrote that the preliminary injunction issued in August “does not require the Clerk to issue licenses to other applicants. But as set out in the order that announced issuance of the preliminary injunction, the Constitution requires the Clerk to issue such licenses. As in any other instance involving parties not now before the court, the Clerk’s obligation to follow the law arises from sources other than the preliminary injunction.”

Melanie and Vanessa Alenier get a head start on getting a marriage license in Miami on January 5. | EQUALITY FLORIDA
Melanie and Vanessa Alenier get a head start on getting a marriage license in Miami on January 5. | EQUALITY FLORIDA

Some counties, mindful now of their obligation to issue licenses, decided to avoid actually having to preside over any same-sex marriages by announcing that no marriages, different- or same-sex, would be performed by their employees. As the Miami Herald noted, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, the capital, took the opportunity of intransigence by officials in some northern Florida counties to invite same-sex couples to travel to Leon County and marry in his city.

The advent of gay marriage in Florida offered a glimpse of how former Governor Jeb Bush may not quite be ready for prime time in his nascent presidential bid. In a rambling response to the Miami Herald on January 4, he said, “It ought be a local decision. I mean, a state decision. The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”

By the next day, in comments to the New York Times, Bush, though conciliatory, was mindful of talking points important to opponents of marriage equality.

“I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty,” he said.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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