There are several large court cases coming up regarding civil rights. Some business owners want the right to refuse their services to gay or lesbian customers because of their religious beliefs. Civil rights advocates call this discrimination, and worry about the broad wording of potential laws allowing for a slippery slope of discrimination for any reason, including race, religion, age…really anything.
This article from Jacksonville outlined one of the many local stories unfolding at the moment. Civil rights attorneys there have filed a lawsuit that takes to task the constitutionality of laws that would refuse recognition of same-sex marriages from outside Florida. The lawsuit was sparked by a gay couple who live in Tallahasee, and were married in Canada. Their marriage is not recognized in the Florida capitol, which means they don’t enjoy the benefits that usually come with marriage.
There was a court case last year called the United States vs Windsor, where the supreme court ruled that states cannot withhold federal benefits for married same-sex couples. This is now part of the Defense of Marriage Act, and failure to comply is considered a direct violation of the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection. Similar cases have been tried in Florida before, but not since the Windsor ruling.
The lawsuit says that this is an opportunity to ‘restore constitutional rights to Floridians whoa re the target of state-sanctioned discrimination’ and ‘join an increasing number of course which have held that laws discriminating against same-sex couples are unconstitutional.’
The plaintiffs in the case were married in 2009, after dating for over 20 years. One works for the Florida Forest Service and the other for the Florida Department of Education. The first issue they ran into regarding their rights as a married couple was when the Florida Forest Service denied their attempt to include a spouse as a joint annuitant in the Deferred Retirement Option Program. In this way, the state was denying retirement benefits normally granted to married couples. If a retiree of the Forest Service dies in Florida, beneficiaries may currently only include opposite-sex spouses.
The plaintiffs feel that they have strong case, whose ruling will benefit Floridians for generations. They recognize the level of controversy still surrounding same-sex marriage, but believe that the actual question of law regarding the case is a simple one. What they are facing, however, is a court system in a state where 62% of voters believe marriages are only valid when between a man and woman. The lawsuit claims that Florida ‘has no legitimate state interest in treating legally married same-sex couples any differently from legally married opposite-sex couples.’