Eight same-sex couples have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Florida’s refusal to recognize out-of-state marriages, saying it violates their constitutional rights.
The lawsuit differs from the one filed in January by other gay and lesbian couples in Miami-Dade Circuit Court that directly challenges the state ban on gay marriage.
All of the federal plaintiffs are gay couples who were married out of state. They include Akerman attorney Richard Milstein and his partner of 12 years, Eric Hankin, a Miami public schoolteacher.
The lawsuit is being spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and SAVE, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization based in South Florida.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Tallahassee federal court was assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, a Clinton appointee.
“Each of these couples has their own story of how the state’s discriminatory refusal to recognize their marriages has impacted their lives,” said Daniel Tilley, LGBT rights attorney for the ACLU of Florida.
He said the couples have all the rights and responsibilities of marriage in the states where they exchanged vows, and the federal government recognizes their marriages.
“It’s time for Florida to stop the harmful practice of treating committed couples as if they are strangers,” Tilley said.
States that don’t recognize gay marriage have faced numerous lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional last year.
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said, “Sadly, Florida refuses to recognize those marriages, often at significant cost to their families.”
The lead plaintiff is Sloan Grimsley, a firefighter from Palm Beach Gardens who is married to Joyce Albu, a consultant assisting parents of children with developmental disorders.
The couple is concerned that if something happened to Sloan in the line of duty, Albu would not receive the financial support offered by the state, Grimsley said.
“I’m proud of the work that I do protecting my community, but the law in Florida doesn’t let me protect my own family,” Grimsley said. “We just want the peace of mind of knowing that those vows we took to care for one another aren’t dependent on where we are.”
The lawsuit is the latest in a groundswell of challenges in the divisive gay marriage debate. In the last month, similar lawsuits have been filed in Alabama and Indiana. In Kentucky, a federal judge ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states and countries.
The lawsuit names Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other top Florida officials as defendants. It asks the judge to declare Florida’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriage as an unconstitutional violation of equal protection and due process rights. The lawsuit also asks for a ruling requiring the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.
A separate lawsuit filed earlier this year in Miami-Dade Circuit Court challenges the DOMA-based ban on same-sex marriage that Florida voters added to the state Constitution in 2008.
Kunal Parker, a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said the federal lawsuit is interesting because it doesn’t directly challenge Florida’s ban on gay marriage.
“It chips away at the ban,” Parker said. “Butthese arguments really are about equal protection and due process.”