FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Legal Group Behind Initiative Has Already Tried to Strip Same-Sex Couples of Domestic Partner Protections
TALLAHASSEE -In a reply brief filed today with the Florida Supreme Court, legal groups representing six same-sex couples and the nationwide union of government employees note that the backers of the anti-gay relationship initiative concede that it would ban both marriage and civil unions. The brief also notes that Liberty Counsel, the legal group behind the initiative, has already tried to strip domestic partner health benefits from lesbian and gay employees of the City of Gainesville.
"Those behind this initiative are trying to pull a fast one on the voters," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "In poll after poll, the majority of Floridians support civil unions or other protections for same-sex couples, yet the proponents of this initiative have used deceptive and misleading language that makes it seem like this is only about marriage. The proponents now freely admit that they aren't content to simply ban gay people from marriage. They want to make civil unions and domestic partnerships unconstitutional too."
According to the brief filed by Liberty Counsel in support of the amendment, the proposed initiative was drafted to specifically ban not only marriage for same-sex couples but also laws that provide same-sex couples with alternative protections, such as civil union and domestic partnership laws in effect in Vermont, Connecticut and California. A legal challenge to the initiative filed by six same-sex couples, Equality Florida and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) last month charges that the deceptive language of the initiative violates the Florida constitution's single-subject rule, which bans initiatives that raise more than one question. The challenge was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
"This initiative is dangerously deceptive. Liberty Counsel has already tried to strip lesbian and gay employees of the City of Gainesville of domestic partner health insurance benefits," said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. "If this initiative passes, you can bet that Liberty Counsel or groups like them will be in court trying to use it to deny same-sex couples any and all protections for their relationships."
In their brief, backers of the initiative claimed that it would not disturb domestic partner health benefits offered by several municipalities in Florida because they are not the "substantial equivalent" of marriage. However, Liberty Counsel took the opposite position when it challenged the City of Gainesville's policy of providing domestic partner health benefits to its lesbian and gay employees. In that case they argued that the city's domestic partner benefits "mimics marriage" and "establishes a relationship that is the equivalent of marriage" in violation of state law prohibiting marriage by same-sex couples. Attorneys for the Liberty Counsel drafted the proposed anti-marriage amendment and are the attorneys for the group pushing the amendment.
Today's reply brief notes that similar initiatives have passed in other states and have subsequently been used to cause harm to same-sex couples. Michigan's Attorney General has claimed that the amendment passed there bans domestic partner health benefits for state employees. Similarly, a Utah court is being asked to decide if that state's amendment bars Salt Lake City from providing domestic partner health benefits to its lesbian and gay employees. An Ohio amendment has been used as basis to deny straight unmarried couples access to protections from the state's domestic violence laws.
The Florida Supreme Court could decide to hear oral arguments in the challenge or simply issue a ruling on the legal documents filed.
A copy of today's brief, the initial brief challenging the initiative and biographical information about the couples involved is available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles, www.aclufl.org, www.equalityflorida.org, and www.nclrights.org.