A Florida-based organization advocating for LGBT rights filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state of Florida for its ban on same-sex marriage.
Arguing that current legislation denies them the equal protection granted by the U.S. Constitution, Equality Florida has joined with six same-sex couples to challenge the state.
Chad Cronon, president of the Central Florida Gay and Lesbian Law Association and one of the lawyers on Equality Florida’s advisory team, said the group sees a lawsuit as the most feasible way to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
The organization’s leaders decided to take this route because the Republican-controlled Legislature won’t repeal the Florida Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits marriage between people of the same sex, Cronon said. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a federal version of the act, but the ruling did not overturn state laws.
Because Florida is part of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals — one of the most conservative courts in the country — Cronon said it is important to present the lawsuit when it has a chance of succeeding. The organization is taking the lawsuit to a Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
“Any time you want a systematic change, you need the right plaintiff because you know the case could get appealed,” he said.
Equality Florida partnered with national organization Freedom to Marry to launch a campaign to find possible plaintiffs in the suit.
Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith said more Floridians support marriage equality because they have noticed how same-sex couples are discriminated against when they have no legal protection. According to a March 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling, 75 percent of Florida voters support civil unions for same-sex couples.
“Every day that passes where we are not treated with equality is painful,” Smith said.
But some leaders of opposing organizations do not see the legalization as a pressing issue in the Florida Capitol.
John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which supported an amendment making marriage legal only between a man and a woman, said he has noticed a change in citizens’ attitude toward same-sex marriage.
Yet he said he doesn’t think the change will make a difference.
“[Gay people] are citizens of the United States,” he said. “They deserve to be protected, but they don’t have the right to redefine a human institution that is so fundamental, like marriage.”
But Cronon said legalization of same-sex marriage is the first of many steps to gain rights for members of the LGBT community.
“Just because you have achieved marriage, doesn’t mean you’ve achieved freedom,” he said.