“We didn’t get to 35 states with the Freedom to Marry, the federal government respecting gay peoples’ marriages throughout the country, the prospect of the freedom to marry in Florida shimmering within reach now overnight. This has been a decades-long struggle and the intense campaign within that struggle has gone on for 15 or 20 years,” Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said during the town hall panel, which also featured ABC/CNN commentator Ana Navarro and two plaintiffs in the federal marriage recognition case, wives Denise Hueso and Sandra Newson.
“The engine that has prompted the change that we have used to advance those legal and legislative and political vehicles, the engine of change is having people have a conversation with someone who’s gay or with someone who is not gay but who can talk about her values and commitment,” Wolfson said. “The conversation is the engine that has brought us from 27 percent support in the country in 1996 when we were doing the Hawaii case that launched this movement to now the 59 percent we have nationwide, the 57 percent we have in Florida.”
Come Jan. 6, Florida may become the 36th state in which same-sex couples can go to their local county clerk’s office and get a marriage license.
On Aug. 21, federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled in favor of the ACLU of Florida, throwing out the gay-marriage ban in Florida’s constitution — approved by 62 percent of voters in 2008 — calling it “an obvious pretext for discrimination.” He stayed his ruling until Jan. 5, leaving Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi time to appeal.
Bondi appealed Hinkle’s ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. In November, she asked the court to extend Hinkle’s stay until after the case is settled. A week ago, a three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals told Bondi it wouldn’t extend the stay.
Gay activists and legal experts now believe that on Jan. 6, the day after the stay expires, same-sex couples will be able marry in Florida and that gay couples who married in other states will have their unions recognized here.
“It’s about protection and equality and not feeling like a second-class citizen,” Hueso told the Miami Herald. She and Newson have been together 17 years, got married five years ago in Boston and now have an adopted son.
Hueso and Newson are among the plaintiffs in the federal marriage case brought by the ACLU and LGBT-rights group SAVE.
“At first marriage was just something we thought would be a nice thing to do, but as we went through the process of getting married I realized and we both talked about how validating it was to have our relationship legally recognized,” Newson said. “When we came back to Florida, it was the kinds of things as having to introduce the idea that I have a wife, as opposed to my partner, and having people kind of question our legal status in just everyday things that we did.”
Perceptions about gay marriage have changed throughout the nation, as reflected in the 2014 elections, according to Navarro, a Miami-based Republican Party activist.
“I’m not sure gay marriage was an issue that made or didn’t make any single election that I can think of,” Navarro said at the town hall meeting, moderated by Equality Florida Deputy Director Stratton Pollitzer at O Cinema Wynwood. “In fact, we had for the first time that I can remember, three openly gay — and the key word is ‘openly gay’ — openly gay Republicans running for Congress. Two of them won their primaries. Carl DeMaio in San Diego and Richard Tisei in Massachusetts, and came very close to winning Congressional seats.
“They not only won the primary, they also won the backing of Congressional leadership. I remember that during the campaign, there were a couple of the anti-gay marriage Republican congressmen who complained bitterly and publicly about leadership, about John Boehner, the Republican Congressional Committee giving donations to these openly gay candidates. They got swatted down like insects. In fact, more money came in.”