'Equal dignity' or 'publicity stunt' for Florida


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The last two years, in particular, have seen gay-rights groups secure victory after victory in the drive for what supporters call "marriage equality." President Barack Obama endorsed the idea of gay marriage in 2012, and a succession of Democratic politicians quickly did the same.

State after state has also followed suit, with the number of states where gay marriage is allowed or has been approved by the courts jumping from 12 to 17 since the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" on the basis that it violated due-process rights. Among those states are Utah and Oklahoma, states not exactly known for unchecked liberalism.

The legal fight has now moved to Florida, with six gay couples challenging Florida's ban on same-sex marriage in state court, saying the prohibition violates U.S. Constitution protections against discrimination and denies them "equal dignity and respect."

The six couples and the Equality Florida Institute filed the lawsuit Tuesday against Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin, four days after his office refused to grant them marriage licenses.

Florida is one of more than two-dozen states with amendments in the state constitution that ban same-sex marriage, and the lawsuit filed Tuesday is one of 40 throughout the country.

The suit could set up a Florida Supreme Court showdown over the "Florida Marriage Protection" constitutional amendment approved by nearly 62 percent of voters five years ago. At least, arguments before the seven justices --- several of whom are more left-leaning than legislative leaders --- are what plaintiffs' lawyer Elizabeth Schwartz said she was hoping for.

"We decided that the time has come. Let's bring it here and let's give the judges the same opportunity," Schwartz said.

Social conservatives pushed back. John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council and author of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, called the lawsuit "a publicity stunt" timed to coincide with the onset of the legislative session, which begins in March.

"To me they're constantly trying to create political momentum just by asserting things that are not true. This would be another kind of political momentum stunt as we go into the legislative session," Stemberger said.