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Florida joins marriage evolution

Sun Sentinel

Here’s how quickly monumental social change can happen, when it’s right:

As recently as 2003, not a single state in the nation would issue a marriage license to a gay or lesbian couple. Today, gay marriage is legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia.

In Florida just a little over six years ago, 62 percent of voters approved a state constitutional amendment that limited marriage to a man and a woman. Yet today, polls show as many as 75 percent of Floridians believe it is un-American to deny a basic human right — or discriminate against — certain groups in the state Constitution.

Early Tuesday, Florida officially joined the sea change, with group gay weddings performed shortly after midnight in courthouses in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Miami-Dade County began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples on Monday.

The journey to true equality may seem remarkably fast, but it hasn’t been easy. And a snag or two still remain. Legal arguments have yet to be heard before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which while lifting the stay on marriage licenses, has yet to decide the merits of Florida’s appeal. There also remains a question of whether clerks in all 67 Florida counties will go along with the federal court ruling that says Florida’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional.

In case after case, the fight for equality has survived a powerful opponent — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who argues that same-sex marriage will “impose significant public harm” and that marriage is meant to produce children. Five times now, judges have said Bondi’s argument lacks merit.

Religious organizations and conservative groups also remain opposed to the change, as is their right. Not everyone has to embrace the evolution of traditional marriage. Many won’t. For when the Declaration of Independence talked about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” it didn’t offer any exceptions. And it didn’t say anything about watering down people’s rights with cop-out terms like “civil unions.”

When it comes to equal rights for all, Florida has taken a step forward into the 21st century. More than three years ago, the federal government ended the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for service in the military. Last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled parts of the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional.

And now, gay marriage has come — belatedly, maybe, but it’s here — to Florida, thanks to courageous people and sympathetic groups who kept waging the fight.

“This is how change happens,” said ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon. “The victories of coalition partners building on one another and creating real change for Florida families.”

Florida has long been an outlier when it comes to progressive social change — the last state to allow gay couples to adopt, for example — but it is no longer behind the times on same-sex marriage.

For the moment, we congratulate the gay and lesbian couples who marry today or plan to do so in the near future. We wish you happiness. You are living proof that positive cultural change can happen.

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