Monday, March 24, 2014

Florida's First Openly-Gay Judge Predicts Marriage Equality Will Be Legal by 2016

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Florida's First Openly-Gay Judge Predicts Marriage Equality Will Be Legal by 2016


The demonstration, which was spearheaded by Andy Amoroso, the first openly gay city commissioner in Palm Beach County, drew a crowd of over 100 people carrying signs and calling for Florida's legislature to legalize gay marriage in Florida.

"As a lawyer who closely follows this issue in federal courts across America," Hoch said during his speech, "I feel comfortable in predicting that before the end of June, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down all laws across the nation which prevent lesbians and gay men from marrying their partners."

Hoch, who practices law and mediates employment disputes, became Florida's first openly gay judge when he was appointed Judge of Compensation Claims in 1992 by then-Governor Lawton Chiles. He served until his term ended in 1996.

In 1988, Hoch founded the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, and has served as the group's president since 2006.

During his speech, Hoch also praised Palm Beach County citizens' pro marriage-equality stance.
"More than a quarter of a million people in Palm Beach County voted against enshrining anti-LGBT discrimination in our state constitution," he said. "Locally we had the votes to kill the marriage ban."

The rally, which was held at Lake Worth City Hall, was organized with the help of local advocates as well as political representatives who sponsored or endorsed the demonstration. Sen. Bill Nelson has endorsed the demonstration, as have Sens. Jeff Clemens and Patrick Murphy. Congressman Ted Deutsch is also among those who have endorsed the rally.

The demonstration offered poster boards for gay married couples to make signs showing where they got married and how much they ended up spending for their out-of-state weddings.

"On a financial level, people are spending millions of dollars to get married," Amoroso told New Times last week. "But because of Florida's laws, gay and lesbian couples are being forced to fly to other destinations to get married."

In his speech at the top of the City Hall steps, Hoch called a reversal of Florida's ban on gay marriage "inevitable."

"Sooner or later, the courts here in Florida will declare that the ban against lesbian and gay marriages is unconstitutional, as the ban violates both the equal protection clause and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Friday, March 14, 2014

PBCHRC Post Election Update - March 2014


Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council's activists - all volunteers - have been interviewing candidates for public office, making endorsements, educating public officials and taking action with the sole purpose of changing laws and policies to provide equal treatment and equal benefits for the local LGBT community.

Rand Photo 2013 Thanks to the voter identification, early voting, absentee ballot and get out the vote campaigns conducted this winter by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance, members of Palm Beach County's LGBT community, and our allies turned out in record numbers for the 2014 municipal elections in Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens.

Our efforts were instrumental in the re-election of Palm Beach Gardens City Council Members Eric Jablin and Marcie Tinsley, both longtime supporters of LGBT rights. The two incumbents have 100% voting records on LGBT issues, and, in 2013, both voted to offer domestic partner health insurance benefits to city employees. Both Jablin and Tinsley were challenged by well funded opponents and turnout in the March election was unusually strong. (While only 11% of Palm Beach Gardens voters turned out in the 2013 municipal elections, this year turnout reached close to 19%.) Thanks to your efforts, the two candidates who were endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance were re-elected.

In the Boca Raton municipal election, Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie, who voted in favor of offering domestic partnership benefits to city employees in 2013, defeated City Council Member Anthony Majhes, the sole vote against domestic partnership benefits.  City Council Member Michael Mullaugh, who also supported PBCHRC's initiatives in 2013, was also re-elected. Additionally, longtime PBCHRC supporter Robert Weinroth was elected to serve on the Boca Raton City Council.

Working to elect LGBT supportive public officials has resulted in the enactment of more than 65local laws and policies which now provide Palm Beach County's LGBT residents and visitors with equal protection and equal family benefits.

Earlier this year, Clerk and Comptroller for Palm Beach County Sharon Bock implemented a tax equity reimbursement policy to reimburse employees insuring their domestic partners for the full amount of the additional federal income taxes which are assessed on employees whose domestic partners receive health insurance through their employers. Currently, the clerk, along with the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser, the Constitutional Tax Collector for Palm Beach County, the City of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County all provide tax equity for their employees with domestic partners. As a result of PBCHRC's efforts, more public employers provide tax equity in our county than in any other state in our nation.

Until all federal and state civil rights laws become LGBT inclusive - and until marriage equality reaches Florida - PBCHRC will remain vigilant in our efforts to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

The Council's current projects include persuading:

●     The City of Boca Raton to rescind Ordinance No. 5161; 
●     The Chief Judge of Florida's 15th Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in mandatory diversity training for judges and court personnel; 
●     All public employers within Palm Beach County to: (a) adopt policies which specifically prohibit discrimination based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression" and (b) provide the same employment benefits to families based on domestic partnerships as are provided to families based on legally recognized marriages; and 
●  All public employers within Palm Beach County providing domestic partners health insurance to provide annual payments to offset (or fully reimburse) the additional federal taxes assessed on the value of those payments.

In keeping with PBCHRC's commitment to promoting equality through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach, PBCHRC will be cosponsoring the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Network annual event in Fort Lauderdale. In addition, this December, three PBCHRC Board Members,  Vice Chair Jess Blackman, Secretary Rae Franks, and Litigation Chair Trent Steele, will be participating in Lavender Law, the National LGBT Bar Association Conference in New York. This conference brings together the best and brightest legals minds in the country and PBCHRC is proud to continue its relationship these incredible legal organizations.

Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has worked diligently on behalf of the LGBT community. Rest assured we will continue to do so in 2014 - and beyond.

Judge Rand Hoch (retired)
President and Founder 

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.