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NCLR files marriage equality lawsuit in Florida state court

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This morning, six same-sex couples living in Miami, Florida, filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The six couples are joined by Equality Florida, the state’s LGBT advocacy organization.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) will represent the couples, along with the law firm Carlton Fields, Jorden Burt, attorney Elizabeth F. Schwartz, and attorney Mary B. Meeks. The couples will argue that the state’s marriage ban violates the United States Constitution (the state has its own constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.)

The Washington Blade reports that after the Supreme Court’s decision last June striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Equality Florida announced they were seeking plaintiffs for a marriage equality lawsuit.

NCLR recently joined the challenge to Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, now on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. They also filed a marriage equality lawsuit in Tennessee.

The complaint can be read here.

The filing alleges violations of both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the federal Constitution: the “Due Process Clause protects choices central to personal dignity, privacy, and autonomy, including each individual’s fundamental liberty interests in family integrity and intimate association. Defendant’s actions to enforce the marriage ban directly and impermissibly infringe upon same-sex couples’ deeply intimate, personal, and private decisions regarding family life, and preclude them from obtaining full liberty, dignity, privacy, and security for themselves, their family, and their parent-child bonds.”

The state’s ban violates the Equal Protection Clause, they allege, because “Florida’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, and Defendant’s actions to enforce that exclusion, deny same-sex couples equal dignity and respect, and deprive their families of a critical safety net of rights and responsibilities. These laws brand same-sex couples and their children as second-class citizens through government-imposed stigma and foster private bias and discrimination, by instructing all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their relationships and families are less worthy than others. Florida’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and Defendant’s actions reflect moral disapproval and animus toward same-sex couples.”

The case is captioned as Pareto v. Ruvin.

Thanks to Kathleen Perrin for this filing.  For more information on Pareto v. Ruvin from The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, click here.

Help us travel to Denver this spring to cover oral arguments in the Utah marriage equality case. You won’t regret it, and you can help EqualityOnTrial be a part of history in the making. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to EqualityOnTrial in the new year to help us continue this mission–any amount helps!


  • 1. Zack12  |  January 21, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Long time overdue and all our side has to do to prove animus is use quotes from John Stemberger,the chairman of the group who pushed for this ban.
    He makes perfectly clear his utter contempt for gays and lesbians.

  • 2. Ian S.  |  January 21, 2014 at 11:19 am

    9th circuit has ruled that sexual orientation merits heightened scrutiny!

  • 3. FYoung  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    This is a link to an article with the full text of the decision:

  • 4. Eric  |  January 21, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Gay bias in jury selection: federal appeals court forbids barring gays and lesbians from jury service

    Unanimous ruling from the 9th Circuit with digs at continuing inequality. 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for a three-judge panel, said that bumping prospective jurors based on their sexual orientation continues a "deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation's most cherished rites and rituals."

  • 5. Carol  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you for the link. This is big.

  • 6. Zack12  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    On a different front,Republican leader in the house Brian Bosma is doing everything he can to push the bigoted ban in Indiana through.
    It does appear his threats last week didn't work so he's simply switching it to a different committee that will likely pass it.

  • 7. Anthony  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Can somebody please get a federal lawsuit filed in that state?

  • 8. Chad  |  January 21, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    umm you can't file a lawsuit to stop the legislature from enacting laws. i think we're doing very good with the lawsuits that are on-going. let's not detract from our credibility by filing foolish lawsuits

  • 9. Mackenzie  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Wait…they filed this with the state court in FL? Does not the state court have the soul duty of interpreting only the state constitution in FL? I just wander if it would have been wiser to file this in Fed court against FL to speed up the process and risk what I believe will be a more probable failure with a state court. Correct me if I am missing something please. Good news none-the-less.

  • 10. Fan  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    That's exactly what I was thinking. How can a state court rule against part of its constitution?

  • 11. Anthony  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    They filed it in the wrong court. What the hell…

  • 12. Chad  |  January 21, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    no they didn't

  • 13. Stefan  |  January 21, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    State courts can invoke the federal constitution (as was the case with the New Mexico anti-discrimination case), but it means they may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

  • 14. Scottie Thomaston  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Yes it's state court. They are saying it violates the federal Constitution, not the state constitution. But it is indeed a state court case.

  • 15. fireman452  |  January 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Two different attys said that all any state court can do all the way up to the supreme court is interpret existing Florida Law, that means that Amendment #2 stands to keep their back, and they have no choice but to say that marriage equality in Florida is not legal. This paints the Florida Court system into a corner and according to one of my friends is a complete waste of time, he said they should have just gone federal. Lets hope all those lawyers in this case know something that he does not, my fingers are crossed but I am sweating.

  • 16. Zack12  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    That's a typo at the type. They filed the lawsuit in the 11th circuit.

  • 17. Anthony  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Oh ok. Well the 11th circuit is conservative, so if they rule against us, it will provide SCOTUS with a circuit split to then decide.

  • 18. Zack12  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    William H. Pryor,a Bush Jr Appointee is a known bigot so he will certainly rule against us.

  • 19. Bruno71  |  January 22, 2014 at 9:20 am

    We will already have that split once the 9th or 10th rules in our favor:….

  • 20. Mackenzie  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Thank you for the clarification. I was wandering how they thought filing with the state was a good idea.

  • 21. Scottie Thomaston  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    No, it's a state court case. There are federal constitutional claims, but it's filed in state court. They aren't saying that the state constitutional amendment is unconstitutional under Florida's constitution but rather the US Constitution.

  • 22. Anthony  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Then their lawyers are complete idiots, because state courts have no jurisdiction to invalidate state constitutional amendments.

  • 23. Scottie Thomaston  |  January 21, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    42 USC 1983, state courts have jurisdiction over federal claims:

    They're not making claims challenging the ban under the state constitution only the federal one.

  • 24. Ryan K.  |  January 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Does anyone have insight as to why in Florida it is best to file in state court versus a Federal District Court in Florida? Given our recent wins in Utah and Oklahoma being in federal court, what is the reasoning for going state side here in FL (my home state for better or worse) versus federal court?

  • 25. Bruno71  |  January 22, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Something's fishy about this. I'd think state courts are much more likely to rule against us, even if it's a federal constitution-based argument. Coupled with the possibly fake group that was trying to get a repeal on the ballot in Florida, it's a bit troubling.

  • 26. Scottie Thomaston  |  January 22, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Yesterday in a live streamed panel discussion, Kate Kendell (at NCLR, the group who filed this suit) made a comment that they filed in state court because they believe they have a better chance of winning there.

  • 27. Bruno71  |  January 22, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Interesting…hope she's right.

  • 28. Chad  |  January 21, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    which is why they filed FEDERAL claims anthony. know the law before you lash out. state courts hear federal claims all the time

  • 29. Zack12  |  January 21, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Looking up the law firms for this case,I imagine they know what they are doing.
    If not…we have 20 other ones to pick from.

  • 30. Seth From Maryland  |  January 21, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    just interesting thought, if Christ becomes governor and the AG goes dem , maybie we could win at the appeals court then Christ could chose not to appeal kinda like the adoption case a few years back

  • 31. bythesea  |  January 21, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    If Christ becomes governor I'll be shocked as hell for sure, though I guess that'd be a step down for Him. ;P (heh, know you meant Crist).

  • 32. fireman452  |  January 22, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I have spoken to two different attys on this subject state vs federal. According to both the only think a state court can do and this includes all the way up to the state Supreme Court is interpret Florida Law, meaning that the best they can expect is that they can paint the state court system into a corner to come out an flagrantly say that the Florida Constitution upholds the bias and that they have no choice but to support it. This then requires a whole NEW suite to be filed in the Federal District Court. They can not Appeal to the federal court a NEW case has to be filed. The one atty said that in his opinion this is a complete waste of time, they should have done EXACTLY what Utah did – go directly to the federal level, discrimination is discrimination – no question, and all they need is the federal court to say that the Florida Constitutional Amendment #2 is federally unconstitutional – I am not an Atty but this makes sense to me. However, from the sound of things they have a whole SLEW of attys in this suite so I am sure they know what they are doing said the six hundred as they road into the valley of death (Ours is not to reason why ours is but to do or ??????) well lets hope our leaders know something we do not.

  • 33. John  |  January 22, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    State courts can rule on federal law, just as federal courts can rule on state law. That's law 101. The final authority for federal law will, as always, be the US Supreme Court. The final authority for state law will, as always, be that state's Supreme Court.

  • 34. fireman452  |  January 22, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Not sure what 101 your talking about but according to three different sources of law on the web and two Florida Attys –

    Can a state court rule on a federal constitutional issue?


  • 35. John  |  January 22, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Notwithstanding your Google search, your two friends from Florida, and your all-caps, state courts have concurrent jurisdiction with federal courts except where the state has denied them jurisdiction or where Congress has reserved exclusive jurisdiction over a federal issue, like bankruptcy.

    But really, common sense should suffice. Do you really think NCLR doesn't understand the basic functioning of the legal system?

  • 36. Deeelaaach  |  January 22, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    The question that popped up in my mind after reading the sentence about the two attorneys you asked – and before I finished reading the entire post – was this: what do your two attorney friends specialize in – constitutional law? Criminal law? Corporate? Finance? etc… So far as I know, their law specialty matters. But I could be wrong.

  • 37. Equality On TrialSPLC fil&hellip  |  February 13, 2014 at 9:07 am

    […] to face a marriage equality lawsuit. Same-sex couples have also filed lawsuits in Louisiana and Florida, while district courts in Oklahoma and Kentucky have struck down portions of the bans in those […]

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