LGBTQ South Florida

Equality Florida: State to soon update marriage certificates to read ‘spouse’

The first marriage license in Florida issued to a same-sex couple, on Jan. 5 in Miami-Dade County to ‘groom’ Catherina Pareto and ‘bride’ Karla Arguello.
The first marriage license in Florida issued to a same-sex couple, on Jan. 5 in Miami-Dade County to ‘groom’ Catherina Pareto and ‘bride’ Karla Arguello. Miami Herald File

Same-sex couples have been legally allowed to marry in Florida since Jan. 5, but marriage certificates here still haven’t been updated to reflect that not all unions are of “brides” and “grooms.”

On Thursday, LGBT-rights group Equality Florida announced that beginning sometime in September, new state forms will identify each married partner as a “spouse.”

“We’re excited this change has been made and glad it is officially set to a timeline because this is long overdue,” said Hannah Willard, Equality Florida’s marriage issues coordinator.

Bureau of Vital Statistics spokeswoman Ana Goold said the change will happen sometime in September, according to Willard.

“The state is updating commemorative marriages certificates that say spouse and spouse. To my knowledge there is no plan to offer husband and wife versions,” Willard said.

Mara Burger, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Department, which oversees the Bureau of Vital Statistics, says “the change has to be made through the administrative rule process.”

“The Department of Health is in the rule-making process to update all marriage license forms,” Burger said in an email to the Miami Herald.

Marriage licenses are issued by Florida’s counties. “Many counties quickly updated their paperwork to include same-sex couples when marriage equality arrived in Florida,” Willard said. “Now the state is finally updating their policies to reflect the change in regards to marriage and death certificates.”

Willard said the state Bureau of Vital Statistics issues birth, death and marriage certificates. “Marriage certificates are used to get your spouse on health insurance documents and other important documents,” she said.

Also Thursday, Social Security announced it would retroactively acknowledge married same-sex couples who sought benefits but were denied before the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Lambda Legal is pleased to receive this confirmation that the Social Security Administration will soon announce a change to their spousal benefits policy that could right a wrong for hundreds of same-sex spouses ... whose claims are still in the administrative process or in litigation because their home states refused to recognize their marriages,” according to news release from the national LGBT rights group. “SSA has not announced when this policy change will be posted and implemented, but we look forward to reviewing the details and working with the agency to ensure that those who had been wrongly denied in the past will not have to wait longer to have their relationships treated with dignity by the federal government.”

In Florida, Arlene Goldberg of Fort Myers was denied her wife’s Social Security benefits after Carol Goldwasser died March 13, 2014.

Partners for 47 years, Goldberg and Goldwasser moved from the Bronx to Florida in 1989 and married in New York in October 2011. After Goldwasser died, the state of Florida refused to recognize their marriage and declared that she died a single woman.

In April 2014, 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.

One year ago, 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 primary income is Social Security. Because Florida didn’t recognize her marriage at the time of Goldwasser’s death, Goldberg has been unable to qualify as her widow and collect her Social Security payments.

“I’m so excited, I am so excited. It will make such a difference in my life. That’s another $800 a month for me,” Goldberg said Friday. “I had a feeling it would come. It was just when it would come. They need to complete the circle.”

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