Florida Marriage Plaintiff Receives Death Certificate Recognizing Her Marriage to Partner of 47 Years

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 8, 2014 12:00 am

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“Bittersweet” moment is first time a Florida state agency has issued a document recognizing the marriage of a couple of the same-sex

October 8, 2014

CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

Fort Myers, Fla. Today, Arlene Goldberg of Ft. Myers, Florida, one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU of Florida’s lawsuit challenging Florida’s ban on recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, received an updated death certificate from the Florida Department of Health that lists her as the spouse of her deceased wife Carol Goldwasser. The death certificate is the first document issued by the State of Florida recognizing the marriage of a same-sex couple.

Arlene and Carol, who married in New York in October 2011, had been together 47 years when Carol passed away on March 13, 2014 – the same day that the ACLU of Florida announced its lawsuit challenging the marriage ban in Florida. Because the state did not recognize their marriage, Arlene was unable to receive Carol’s Social Security survivor’s benefits that would have helped her remain financially secure. Arlene contacted the ACLU and an amended complaint was filed adding Arlene alongside the other plaintiffs in the case – eight same-sex couples from across the state and SAVE, South Florida’s largest LGBT rights organization..

On August 21, 2014, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle issued a ruling striking down Florida’s marriage ban. Although a stay was put on that decision, Judge Hinkle did not stay the portion of his decision that applied to Arlene’s wife’s death certificate.

Upon receiving the updated certificate today, Arlene Goldberg stated:
“This is a bittersweet moment for me. While I’m pleased that the state is finally recognizing that Carol and I shared a life together, it’s sad that she didn’t get to see it happen. So, although it’s important that I am finally getting this piece of the resolution that I’ve been seeking ever since Carol passed away, I’m going to continue to fight to make sure that my marriage is fully recognized for all purposes and that no other couples have to be treated as legal strangers by the place they call home. I want to see love win in Florida, and I hope that that can be Carol’s legacy.”

Regarding the historic moment, ACLU of Florida Staff Attorney for LGBT rights Daniel Tilley stated:
“Today is a milestone day for all Floridians but especially for Arlene. As Judge Hinkle stated himself, listing Arlene as Carol’s wife on Carol’s death certificate is about ‘simple human dignity.’ The state has no business denying this dignity—or any of the other protections and responsibilities of marriage—to Arlene or anyone else. The time for marriage in Florida is now, and Governor Scott and Attorney General Bondi need to stop fighting the inevitable.”
Although the death certificate is the first time a state agency has issued a document recognizing the marriage of a same-sex couple, on August 5, 2014, a state court in Palm Beach County recognized the marriage of Jason Simpson, represented by attorney Andrew “Drew” Fein, for the purpose of designating Mr. Simpson as the personal representative of his late husband’s estate.

A copy of Judge Hinkle’s August decision in the ACLU’s marriage case, which was consolidated with a separate case brought by Jacksonville attorneys William Sheppard and Sam Jacobson, is available here:

On October 7, the ACLU of Florida filed a motion asking the court to lift the stay on the remainder of Judge Hinkle’s decision, which would allow marriages to go forward in Florida and the state to recognize marriages performed outside the state. That motion is available here: http://aclufl.org/?p=5753

High resolution photos of Arlene and Carol are available upon request.

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