Miami-Dade County

Gay Key West bartenders await decision on whether they can wed

Key West bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones hoped they would be allowed to wed immediately after a hearing Monday in Plantation Key, but Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia told them he would need a “a short period of time” to determine whether Florida’s gay-marriage ban goes to trial.

“I will not be issuing an order from the bench today,” Garcia said as he opened the hearing for summary judgment before a packed Upper Keys courthouse.

Huntsman and Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license. Their case mirrors a similar suit in Miami-Dade County, in which six same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida Institute sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.

Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum is defending both cases. Just as he did last week before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel, Tanenbaum told Garcia he should not dismiss Florida’s constitutional gay marriage ban, which passed in 2008 with the support of about 62 percent of voters.

“It remains for this court simply to respect the policy decision made by voters,” Tanenbaum told Garcia.

Zabel still hasn’t decided whether to allow the Miami-Dade plaintiffs to wed or go to trial in their suit against Ruvin. The six couples are 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

The gay-marriage battle is being waged across the nation. A federal judge last week ruled Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. According to the group Freedom to Marry, LGBT advocates have won 23 times in federal, state and appellate courts since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a key portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

Last year, Supreme Court justices determined the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, but did not address whether state marriage bans are legal.

“If you have any sense, you realize that this judge cannot overturn [Florida’s] law,” said Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition. “The Supreme Court has never issued a ruling that says same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. If he rules outside of the law, he needs to be removed from the bench.”

Conservative advocacy groups were not allowed to join the Miami-Dade and Monroe cases as defendants. Instead, Garcia and Zabel have allowed them to speak as friends of the court.

“The plaintiffs’ argument with regard to same-sex marriage has no boundaries,” Mathew Staver, founder of the conservative Liberty Counsel, told Garcia. “The plaintiffs’ argument is not to just redefine marriage to include two people of the same sex, the implications of that is, if you include two people of the same sex, then why can’t you have a person of the opposite sex that also brings in a same-sex partner into the marriage?”

Staver said throwing out the law could lead to polygamy. “Those arguments are clearly being made in courts today as a result of these marriage cases.”

Plaintiffs’ co-counsel Elena Vigil-Fariñas told Garcia that Staver’s legal argument — which included a graphic written description of heterosexual and homosexual sex acts — “embarrassed” her.

“I’m embarrassed to have a member of the Bar write something like this as an excuse to support the bigotry of the voters of Florida,” Vigil-Fariñas said. “Because in his mind, this court should allow mob rule. If the majority — the one that has the most money, the one that has the most position — doesn’t like a certain segment of society like our friends over here, they get to rule. And you don’t get to even evaluate whether it’s even constitutional.”

Vigil-Fariñas asked the judge, “What would this state be like if we allowed mob rule?”

“Today, it’s against Aaron and Lee. Tomorrow it could be against me. I wasn’t born here,” added Vigil-Fariñas, who is from Cuba.

Vigil-Fariñas, who is arguing the case with law partner Bernadette Restivo, railed against Staver’s argument that allowing gays and lesbians to wed would harm traditional marriage.

“Fifty seven percent of first marriages in this country fall apart,” she said. “Sixty four percent of second marriages and 72 percent of third marriages. And they are asking for the right to be as miserable as the rest of us.”

David Goodhue, editor of The Reporter, contributed to this report.