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6 couples fight Florida's ban on gay marriage

The couples, all denied marriage licenses in Monroe County, are suing, saying state laws deny them equal rights.

By Associated Press
Published April 16, 2004

MIAMI - Six same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses sued Thursday in an attempt to overturn state laws banning gay marriage, joining the national fray on the issue in a politically pivotal state.

The Monroe Circuit Court suit was filed in Key West, a gay enclave. Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of President Bush, supports a 1997 state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and bans the recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

A similar lawsuit was filed in Fort Lauderdale in February, and court challenges are under way in other states.

"A group of same-sex families came forward out of nothing more than their love for each other and their desire to be married and challenge the state's ban on their marriages," said Stratton Pollitzer, regional director of Equality Florida, which helped file the suit. The Rev. Geoff Leonard-Robinson, pastor of Key West's Metropolitan Community Church, is one of the plaintiffs. He said he and his partner lose their sense of security when they leave Key West.

"Part of the reason I think people are comfortable demonstrating their bigotry is because our state government fosters it through discriminatory laws," he said. Joan Higgs, who sued along with her partner Sandra Carlile, said, "We want to be like every other couple on our street and want to be married."

Four other Monroe County couples and one from Miami Shores are listed as plaintiffs.

Alia Faraj, Bush's press secretary, said he believes in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman and supports current state law.

JoAnn Carrin, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, which must defend the lawsuit, said there would be no comment until attorneys review it.

The lawsuit was filed on the day federal income tax returns were due to call attention to an Internal Revenue Service requirement that even legally married gay couples must file as single taxpayers. Pollitzer called that "a terrible indignity."

"What we do hope is that, should a court rule in favor of these families, counties across Florida will begin to issue marriage licenses," Pollitzer said.

State laws passed in 1997 and during the heyday of Anita Bryant's antigay activism in 1977 are being challenged as discriminatory.

While 38 states ban same-sex marriages, the national landscape is in flux on the issue. Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts next month under a court order. Vermont has legalized same-sex civil unions. The California Supreme Court is being asked to rule on the validity of 4,000 same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco earlier this year.

[Last modified April 16, 2004, 01:05:40]

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