Fort Myers widow Arlene Goldberg has finally received official Florida recognition of her marriage to Carol Goldwasser: Under a judge's order, the state amended Goldwasser's death certificate to read “married.”
“I was really excited. I couldn’t believe they did it,” Goldberg said about the amended death certificate. “Of course, the judge mandated it be done. And it’s done.”
Partners for 47 years, Goldberg and Goldwasser moved from the Bronx to Florida in 1989 and married in New York in October 2011. Goldwasser died March 13. The certificate was amended two weeks ago.
Goldberg’s primary income is Social Security. Because Florida doesn’t recognize Goldberg’s marriage, she was unable to qualify as Goldwasser’s widow and collect her Social Security payments, which were $700 more each month than Goldberg’s.
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It’s unclear whether Social Security will immediately accept Goldwasser’s amended death certificate and change Goldberg’s monthly payment.
“Our attorneys are exploring all possibilities. We are certainly going to continue to fight on Arlene’s behalf to ensure that she gets all the rights, benefits and protections to which she is entitled as a married woman,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “But for today, we are focusing on the bittersweet and very late recognition of Arlene’s marriage by Florida officials. Unfortunately, it had to be by court order.”
Last April, Goldberg joined a lawsuit against Florida filed by the ACLU of Florida on behalf of LGBT rights group SAVE and eight same-sex couples who married in another state.
In August, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee ruled that Florida’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional, ordering the state to allow the marriage of same-sex couples and to recognize marriages performed elsewhere. The judge issued an immediate stay of his order covering all aspects of the federal case except one: Hinkle ordered Goldwasser’s death certificate be amended to show she was a married woman, not single at the time she died.
Goldberg’s marriage is not the first recognized under Florida law. On Aug. 5, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis ruled that W. Jason Simpson should be personal representative in the estate of his husband, Frank Bangor, who died March 14. The two men, together 37 years, were married Oct. 23, 2013, in Delaware.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office did not appeal Lewis’ ruling, which applied only to the Simpson case.