Florida, Utah Sued by Gay Couples Seeking Marriage Rights

Florida’s ban on gay marriage was challenged on constitutional grounds while Utah was sued by same-sex couples claiming the state has stripped their unions of legal recognition after a judge allowed them.

The court clerk in Miami-Dade County, whose office issues marriage licenses, was sued yesterday by six Miami-area gay couples who say the state’s prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution and should be permanently blocked.

“When Florida withholds a marriage license from a same-sex couple, Florida circumscribes individuals’ basic life choices, classifies persons in a manner that denies them the public recognition and myriad benefits of marriage,” and keeps them from making a legally binding commitment, the couples said in the complaint.

Gay marriage is legal in 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in June to overturn part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and leave standing an order ending California’s ban on same-sex marriage. New Mexico, the only state without a law specifically allowing or prohibiting gay marriage, was barred by its highest court on Dec. 19 from denying same-sex couples the right to marry.

Officials in Utah and Oklahoma are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver to overturn judges’ orders last month and this month that struck down their voter-approved bans on same-sex marriage.

The case filed yesterday in state court in West Jordan, Utah, was brought on behalf of couples married in the 2 1/2 weeks from U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s Dec. 20 ruling that Utah’s voter-approved ban violates the U.S. Constitution to a Jan. 6 U.S. Supreme Court order halting further marriages in Utah during the appeals process. Three days after the Supreme Court’s order, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said the state won’t “legally recognize” same-sex marriages while the case is on appeal.

Tax Status

Utah residents Marina Gomberg and Elenor Heyborne went to the Salt Lake County building to get their marriage license “within hours” of learning of Shelby’s ruling, according to yesterday’s complaint. Being legally married lifted the burden of a disadvantaged tax status, lack of guaranteed hospital visitation, and an inability for both women to be legal guardians for their future children, according to the complaint.

“The state’s refusal to continue to recognize their marriage raises again all their concerns and anxiety,” according to the complaint. The couples are seeking a court order declaring the marriages valid.

Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for Reyes, declined to comment on the Utah complaint.

Florida’s prohibition, according to the complaint in that state, is codified in two statutes and the state’s constitution, which defines marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife” and says “no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

County Clerk

Mike Henderson, a deputy chief to Miami-Dade County clerk Harvey Ruvin, who is named as a defendant in the Florida case, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call after regular business hours yesterday seeking comment on the lawsuit.

A copy of the Florida complaint was provided by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The filing couldn’t be immediately confirmed in court records.

The Florida case is Pareto v. Ruvin, 11th Judicial Circuit, Miami-Dade County, Florida (Miami).

The Utah case is Evans v. Utah, 140400673, Third Judicial District, Salt Lake County, West Jordan Department. The federal appeals court case is Kitchen v. Herbert, 13-4178, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (Denver).

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