Friday, March 14, 2014

Palm Beach Gardens same-sex couple, ACLU sue state for recognition

Thursday, March 13, 2014 
By John Lantigua - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer 

Eight same-sex couples married in other states - including a couple from Palm Beach County - have sued the state of Florida, insisting their marriages be recognized here and that they qualify for public benefits and protections enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.

The lead plaintiffs in the complaint are Sloan Grimsley, 40, a firefighter and paramedic with Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue, and her wife, Joyce Albu, 48, a consultant to parents who have children with developmental disorders. They live in Palm Beach Gardens and have four children, ages 23 to 2.

Eva Rose Grimsley, 5, (left) held by mom Joyce Albu and Ella Grimsley, 2, (right) held by mom Sloan Grimsley. Albu and Grimsley are part of an ACLU suit in Florida. (Photo provided by Sloan Grimsley)
They were married in New York City in August 2011, but Florida, which does not allow same sex marriages, does not recognize their out of state marriage as legal.

"I'm proud of the work I do protecting my community, but the law in Florida doesn't let me protect my own family," Grimsley said.

Albu explained that under Florida law she is not recognized as Grimsley's spouse so would not be eligible for spousal benefits if Grimsley were badly injured or killed.

"If something were to happen to Sloan in the line duty, I would be left to raise our kids without any benefits whatsoever," Albu said.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday night in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the eights couples and also the SAVE Foundation, the South Florida gay and lesbian rights organization. It was announced Thursday at a news conference in Miami Beach
"There is no rational reason for the discrimination that Florida inflicts on married couples in Florida who have been married elsewhere, other states and other countries, other than to harm families and their children," said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

Simon said the ACLU is "seeking an America in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people people can live ... free of discrimination, in which their families can be respected and in which they are not subject to discrimination in the work place or public accommodations."

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, issued a statement, saying he supports Florida's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but added that he "does not believe that anyone should be discriminated against for any reason." The statement stopped short of endorsing the ACLU lawsuit, however.

ACLU staff attorney Daniel Tilley laid out the legal claims made in the complaint, based on the fact that while Florida recognizes the marriages of heterosexual couples performed in other states, it won't do the same for gay and lesbian couples.
"The state of Florida's refusal to recognize the marriages of same sex couples is unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution," he said.

"The eight couples in this lawsuit and countless married couples in Florida want the same things in life you and I want," Tilley said. "These couples love one another, they are devoted to one another, they share life's ups downs, its joys and sorrows. Just like anyone else, they want to make sure their families are protected."

The lawsuit is one of many filed across the nation since June when the Defense of Marriage Act,which barred the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages, was ruled unconstitutional. Last month a federal judge in Kentucky ordered state officials to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states.

In January, the advocacy group Equality Florida, representing six same-sex couples, filed a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin after his office refused to issue them marriage licenses, citing state law. The lawsuit is pending. Florida made marriage exclusive to heterosexual couples by an amendment to the Florida Constitution in 2008, with 62 percent of voters supporting it. Critics of the law say public attitudes toward same sex marriage have changed markedly since then.

The lawsuit charges not only that same sex spouses are denied benefits in the case of serious injury or death of a husband or wife but that they are also forced to testify against a spouse in court, while heterosexual spouses are not; are denied rights to make health care decisions for a spouse who is incapacitated; do not automatically share in their spouse's estate if that spouse dies without a will; and is not entitled to an equitable sharing of property if the marriage ends in divorce.

Seven of the couples suing the state are from South Florida and one from Pensacola. Among them are Chuck Hunziker, 81, and Bob Collier, 79 of Fort Lauderdale. Hunziker served in the Navy during the Korean war. Collier reached the rank of captain in the Army and served during the Vietnam War era. According to the lawsuit, they have been together for 50 years.

Albu has one natural son, Connor, 18; one son she adopted before she met Grimsley, Nick, 23; and two children they have adopted together; Ava, 5, and Ella, 2.

"Having to explain to my older children why the state of Florida doesn't recognize our marriage was difficult enough," Albu said. "It's the sort of thing that makes kids feel insecure. I don't want to have to go through the same thing with the younger two."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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