MIAMI-DADE CIRCUIT COURT

Judge: Conservative coalition can’t legally defend gay marriage law

 
 
Miami Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel.
Miami Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel.
Tim Chapman / Miami Herald File

srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

A Miami-Dade circuit judge Tuesday told three conservative groups they could not legally co-defend Florida’s gay marriage ban in court.

Accusing Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin of not “vigorously” defending Florida’s gay marriage ban, the conservatives last month asked Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel to allow them to be co-defendants in the case brought by six same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.

“Harvey’s attorneys are not making him look very good,” said Eladio Jose Armesto, chairman of the Florida Democratic League, after the May 14 hearing. “It would be a grave mistake on Harvey’s part not to vigorously defend the Florida Constitution in which he took an oath to uphold, as well as to defend the rights of Florida voters.”

Florida Democratic League, Florida Family Action and People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality (PULSE) asked Zabel to let them join the case. Tuesday, she said no.

Zabel ruled the groups had no more at stake than “millions of other Floridians” and no “personal stake” in the constitutionality of Florida’s gay marriage ban, which passed in 2008 with nearly 62 percent of the vote.

“They will not be directly and immediately affected if others enter into a same-sex marriage, or are prevented from entering into a same-sex marriage,” Zabel wrote.

“Allowing or disallowing the Plaintiffs to marry would simply not affect anyone’s right to state their opinions about their marriages, or same-sex marriages in general, and would not interfere with anyone’s religion, business or nonprofit organization,” Zabel also wrote.

Armesto declined to comment Tuesday, saying he had not seen Zabel’s ruling.

“Today Judge Zabel reached the proper conclusion in denying extremists seeking a platform for their anti-gay rhetoric the right to intervene in this case,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida Institute, a plaintiff in the case along with couples Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz of Miami.

“This lawsuit is about fundamental, constitutionally protected rights that are violated by a measure that does real harm to our families,” Smith said in a news release. “We look forward to the day when Florida joins the 19 other states and the District of Columbia, where judges have come to the conclusion that such a ban is indefensible.”

Zabel did rule, however, that the conservative groups could file a motion to become a friend of the court and present an oral argument why the marriage ban should be upheld.

“No one can say that their voices aren’t heard,” said Miami Beach attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, who is co-representing the plaintiffs.

A hearing will be held July 2 on a plaintiff’s motion that Zabel rule immediately in their favor, without a trial.

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