ACLU Asks Court to Stop Florida from Enforcing Bans on Recognizing Marriages of Same-Sex Couples after Recently-Widowed Ft. Myers Woman Joins Lawsuit

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 18, 2014 12:00 am

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Arlene Goldberg and Carol Goldwasser shared their lives for 47 years before Carol’s death; Motion filed late Friday says Florida’s refusal to recognize marriages harms all represented families and must be stopped immediately

April 28, 2014

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TALLAHASSEE, FL – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida has filed a motion asking a federal judge to immediately stop the state from enforcing laws banning the recognition of same-sex marriages, and has added a recently-widowed Ft. Myers woman as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Arlene Goldberg joins eight same-sex couples and the South Florida-based LGBT rights organization SAVE (formerly SAVE Dade) in the lawsuit challenging the state of Florida’s refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed outside of Florida.

Arlene Goldberg and Carol Goldwasser had been friends since the two were teenagers in the Bronx and became a couple at the age of 20. The two moved to Florida in 1989 for Carol’s health, and travelled to New York to be married in October 2011, three months after the state began performing same-sex marriages. In the months that followed, Carol’s health deteriorated and on March 13, 2014, the same day that the ACLU of Florida announced the lawsuit, Carol Goldwasser passed away after the two had been together for 47 years.

“My heart broke as Carol faded away, but I knew it was her time to go,” stated Arlene. “I was preparing for the hurt of losing the person I’ve loved for so long, but what makes it even worse is what’s come since, because the law treats us like we never knew each other. Carol and I loved each other for nearly half a century; we were married. That’s supposed to mean something, but Florida says I’m just a stranger to Carol.”

Arlene and Carol had been living with and taking care of Carol’s parents, aged 89 and 92, but now Arlene is caring for them alone. Arlene’s primary income is her Social Security payment; Carol, who had previously been the toll facilities director for Lee County, had a higher Social Security payment than Arlene. For purposes of determining marital status, Social Security looks to the state of residence, and since Florida does not recognize their marriage, Arlene cannot collect her spouse’s Social Security payments as other widows do. The resulting financial hardship will jeopardize Arlene’s ability to continue to support Carol’s parents.

“For nearly half a century, Arlene and Carol built a life together, and in Carol’s death, the state of Florida is forcing Arlene to go on as if the two had been nothing more than roommates.” stated ACLU of Florida LGBT rights staff attorney Daniel Tilley. “The unnecessary pain that Arlene has had to bear is something that no widow or widower should have to deal with while still grieving. This is exactly why Florida must end its discrimination against married same-sex couples.”

In the Motion for Preliminary Injunction filed late Friday, April 25th, the ACLU states that Florida’s marriage recognition bans harm all of the plaintiffs represented in the case by stigmatizing them and their children and by denying them access to state and federal protections. The motion states that, because the harms to the plaintiffs are ongoing and irreparable, and because there is no harm to the state defendants in ending the bans’ enforcement, the public interest is best served by the court enjoining enforcement of Florida’s bans on recognition of the plaintiffs’ marriages.

“We are proud to represent Arlene as we are to represent all the plaintiffs, to make sure no other Floridian faces discriminatory treatment while planning a life with, taking care of, or grieving for a loved one,” added Tilley “That is why we have asked the court to move quickly in finding that these laws – which single out loving couples and deny them the security and protections of marriage, just because they’re gay – are harmful and against the values written into our constitution.”

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys for the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida, as well as Stephen Rosenthal of the Podhurst Orseck law firm.

A copy of the motion for preliminary injunction is available here:

An amended complaint has been filed with the court adding Goldberg as a plaintiff. A copy of that amended complaint is available here:

Additional information about the case, including bios of the plaintiffs, is available here:

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