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Florida: Recognition of same-sex relationships and LGBT equality

Part 1: Civil unions & same-sex marriages (SSM):
History, current status, poll results; domestic
partnership bill introduced to Senate.

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Recent history and current status:

As of 2014-JAN, the State of Florida does not recognize same-sex relationships. However, many counties and cities have a domestic partnership registry. This has produced a patchwork of policies from place to place within the state. A person can gain or lose many rights just by driving from home to work.

An amendment to the state Constitution -- called the "Florida Marriage Protection Amendment" -- was passed by voters on election day, 2008-NOV-08, by a very healthy margin of 63% to 38%. It prohibits the state from authorizing same-sex marriages, or civil unions. However, domestic partnerships with limited benefits are allowed. As of early 2014, loving, committed same-sex couples are recognized by the state only as "legal strangers" -- as roommates without protection to themselves and their children. 1

Also in 2008, Circuit court Judge Cindy S. Lederman ruled that a law banning gay and lesbian people from adopting children in Florida was unconstitutional. She found that the law violated the equal protection guarantees in the state constitution as well as the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, a federal law that seeks to ensure the safety and well-being of children in the welfare system and protect children's right to permanency and stability.

In 2010, the U.S. Third District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court ruling. Judge Gerald Cope wrote:

"It is difficult to see any rational basis in utilizing homosexual persons as foster parents or guardians on a temporary or permanent basis, while imposing a blanket prohibition on those same persons. ... All other persons are eligible to be considered case-by-case to be adoptive parents." 2

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2011 to 2014: Public opinion polls on same-sex marriage show a remarkably strong and steady increase in support during the 2010's:

  • 2011-JUN: A poll by Public Policy Polling found that 67% of voters support recognition of same-sex couples, with 33% being in favor of marriage and 34% favoring civil unions but not marriage. 1

  • 2012-MAY-23: A Quinnipiac University poll of voters showed 40% in favor of SSM and 50% opposed for a margin of 10 percentage points in opposition.

  • 2012-DEC-11 to 17: Seven months later, another Quinnipiac University poll of voters showed increased support for SSM at 42% in favor & 45% opposed. 3

  • 2013-MAR-15 to 18: A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showed still another increase in support for recognition of same-sex couples: It found that 38% of Florida voters supported marriage for same-sex couples; 37% believed that same-sex couples should be able to form civil unions with a complete set of protections and benefits, but not be able to marry. Only 23% agreed with the current state situation in which same-sex couples are not recognized at all at the state level. Two percent were unsure or refused to answer. The opinions of 500 voters were sampled. The margin of error is ±4.4 percentage points. At the time of the poll, a domestic partnership bill had been introduced to the legislature. 23% of voters supported it; 17% opposed it; 60% were unsure of the proposed legislation. 4

  • 2014-JAN-16 to 21: For the first time, a Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll found that a plurality of voters in favor of same-sex marriage: PPP wrote:

    "47% favor it [compared] to 44% who are opposed. That represents a 14 point shift from October of 2011 when we found the state against it by an 11 point margin at 37/48. Among respondents under the age of 45 there's 58/34 support for gay marriage."

    With such heavy support by persons under 45 years-of-age, it would appear that the trend for increasing support for SSM will continue into the future. However, support in Florida will probably continue to lag behind national figures which are currently about 55% in favor of marriage equality.

    The PPP survey sampled the opinion of 591 Florida voters and had a margin of error of ±4.0 percentage points. 5

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2013-JAN/FEB: Unsuccessful bill is introduced into the Senate to create domestic partnerships at the state level:

There is a widespread understanding that the state Constitution -- as modified in 2008 -- bans civil unions as well as same-sex marriage. Civil unions give registered couples all or essentially all of the state's benefits and protections that are given to married couples, except for the right to call their relationship a marriage. To many couples, the latter is the most important right of marriage. Domestic partnerships grant some state benefits. Neither system makes same-sex couples eligible for the 1,138 federal benefits and protections given to married couples.

Senator Eleanor Sobel, D, introduced SB 196 to the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee to create a state system of domestic partnerships. The bill is called the "Families First Act." Such partnerships grant registered couples some of the rights, privileges and protections that are given to married couples. She said:

"This bill makes a lasting change in the lives of many Florida families. By keeping couples together through affording them the same equal rights, we are supporting Florida families. A majority of Americans support extending benefits to couples in domestic partnerships. We cannot allow Florida to be the last state to treat all of its citizens fairly and equally. I am committed to sponsoring and fighting for this bill until it is heard, passed, and signed by the governor. 6"

The bill refers to a system of domestic partnerships, but is claimed to grant same-sex registered couples equality with opposite-sex married couples. This appears to be an unworkable arrangement, because it would apparently give couples registered in domestic partnerships equality with married couples. That would upgrade the domestic partnerships to civil unions which are banned by the 2008 amendment to the state Constitution. The bill would have to be very carefully worded in order to be constitutional.

Representative Mark Pafford (D), sponsored the companion bill in the Florida House. He said:

"It is essential that the Florida Legislature approves the Families First Act to give families legal protections provided by a domestic partnership, such as medical decision-making, hospital visitation rights and the use of family medical leave. Domestic partnerships greatly benefit couples that have formed long-term, mutually supportive relationships, and in many cases, the partnerships have profound benefits for the children of these couples. The time has come to support all families in Florida, and I remain hopeful that this important legislation advances during Florida’s 2013 lawmaking session that begins in a few weeks." 6

Mallory Wells, Public Policy Director of Equality Florida said:

"The 'Families First' bill allows for committed couples in Florida to register and get important legal protections for their family. Equality Florida is proud to have worked with Senator Sobel and Representative Pafford to introduce legislation that will benefit the lives of so many families in Florida.  

We’ve seen tremendous change on the local level in recognizing same-sex relationships. But now we face a patchwork of policies. So someone can work in Orange County and be recognized there, but live across county lines in Seminole County and not be recognized there. Senator Sobel’s "Families First" bill would allow couples to register and have their relationship recognized, no matter where they live in the state.” 6

Senator Sobel withdrew her bill after observing the negative response from many other members on the committee. It became obvious that the bill would not pass the committee. By withdrawing the bill, she maintains the ability to make another attempt to pass it in the future.

John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which opposes recognition of same-sex couples, said:

"Just hours ago, defeated SB 196, the stealth gay marriage bill." 7

James A Smith, writing for Florida Baptist Witness, said:

Whatever its future in Sobel’s committee, the bill faces an enormously uphill battle. It would need the approval of five more committees over the next two months, just to pass the Senate. Passage in the overwhelmingly Republican House would seem unlikely as well.

A line of Florida residents, including some local elected officials, came to the committee to urge panelists to give some of the rights that married people have to those who either don’t want to marry or can’t marry legally because they’re gay. A number of them talked about the trouble they have with child custody issues, or problems they would face trying to be with a partner in the hospital who was nearing death.

“We are treated as legal strangers at the moment that the people we love need us the most, when tragedy strikes,” said Nadine Smith, an activist with Equality Florida, a gay equal rights group.

Many of those who opposed the bill said there are other legal ways to address the problems – Stemberger said good estate planning and other legal arrangements could address the issues raised by gay people who testified, including one woman who said same-sex couples were made to feel “less than human." 8

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above menu. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Recognition of same-sex unions in Florida," Wikipedia. as on 2014-JAN-22, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. "... Court Affirms Overturning Florida Gay Adoption Ban," Freedom to Marry, 2013-SEP-22, at: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/
  3. "... Voters split on same-sex marriage," Quinnipiac University, 2012-DEC-20, at: http://www.quinnipiac.edu/
  4. "Florida voters support a path to citizenship," Public Policy Polling, 2013-MAR-20, at: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/
  5. "Crist holds onto narrow lead over Scott," Public Policy Polling, 2014-JAN-1014, at: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/
  6. "Sue," "Florida Senate Files Statewide Domestic Partnership Bill," Equality Florida, 2013-JAN-11, at: http://www.eqfl.org/
  7. Margie Menzel & David Royse, "Not in Florida: Civil Union Bill Falters Ahead of a Vote That Would Have Killed It," FlagerLive.com, 2013-FEB-20, at: http://flaglerlive.com/
  8. James A Smith, Sr,,., "Civil union bill stalls in Senate committee; sponsor says, ‘Stay tuned’," Florida Baptist Witness, 2013-FEB-20, at: http://www.gofbw.com/

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Florida > here

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-JAN-22
Latest update: 2014-JAN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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