www.ambiente.us    FEBRUARY | FEBRERO 2010

By Stephen Gaskill

In order to demonstrate how lightly Florida’s government actually takes the concept of
marriage as being between “one man and one woman” – and to underscore the fallacy
of the Christian right’s insistence on preaching about the “sanctity” of marriage –
Orlando performance artist Brian Feldman announced he would marry the first woman
who showed up at the marriage license bureau on a recent afternoon.

Feldman was pleasantly surprised when three women showed up to marry him.  So in
keeping with the gravity of the situation, he spun a bottle and chose Hannah Miller as
his bride.  They filled out the paperwork and are now husband and wife.  Their flippant
marriage allows them, after a relationship that lasted just a few minutes: access to
health insurance and life insurance through a spouse’s workplace, joint parenting
rights, access to survivor benefits in case of emergency, automatic inheritance of
retirement savings tax-free after a spouse’s death, ability to file joint tax returns and
access to tax breaks for married couples, and assumption of a spouse’s pension after
death, among a very, very long list of rights and benefits.

When Florida voters passed
Amendment 2 in 2008, there
were no doubt those who truly
believed the “sanctity of


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marriage” argument.  And those are precisely the ones who should support marriage
equality for same-sex couples, especially now that Feldman’s stunt has so clearly
exposed just how empty marriage vows can be.  Untold numbers of same-sex couples
in committed relationships would value the rights and benefits the Feldmans now enjoy
as a married couple, allowing them to preserve and foster the sanctity of their own

But Florida isn’t about to overturn Amendment 2.  We’re finally at the point where those
dreaded activist judges may overturn our archaic and spiteful ban on allowing gays and
lesbians to adopt.  It’s the only ban of its kind in the country, enacted during Anita Bryant’
s anti-gay crusade in the late 1970s.  If something so absurd as that can stay on the
books for 30 years, marriage equality in Florida will have to wait for the repeal of the
federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Several counties and municipalities around Florida have domestic partnership
registries, and those do provide some benefits, although they’re a far cry from the
approximately 1,100 federal benefits provided by marriage.  State Senator Eleanor
Sobel, a Democrat from Broward County, has authored a bill that would create a
statewide domestic partnership registry, allowing both same sex and opposite sex
couples to access that limited pool of benefits.  No one should be under the illusion
that SB 232 and its companion in the House, HB 477 sponsored by Rep. Richard
Steinberg of Miami Beach, opens the door to marriage equality.

“My bill specifically declares that a domestic partnership is not a marriage, and need
not be consecrated by any religion,” Sobel said in a statement.  “Senate Bill 232 will
provide all Floridians with an equal opportunity to obtain the civil benefits and equal
rights, no more, no less, than other Floridians are currently
able to receive.”

Unfortunately, Sobel’s bill won’t get far in the Republican-controlled Legislature, but it
does allow for a discussion of the benefits of a government-recognized relationship.  (“I
will keep refiling this bill as many times as it takes to have it heard and passed,” Sobel
said.)  Domestic partnerships offer a thin layer of protection and recognition – such as
joint health benefits, visitation rights, and rights of survivorship -- but, as critics might
assert, hardly open the door to marriage equality.

And in an interesting twist for those focused on marriage “sanctity,” studies show that
states allowing same-sex marriage or that do not have constitutional amendments
expressly banning it have lower divorce rates than those states that disallow the
practice.  In fact, since marriage equality arrived in Massachusetts the Bay State’s
divorce rate has fallen by 21 percent!

All of that keeps Sobel on her mission.  “Polls last year showed that 77 percent of
Floridians favor benefits for unmarried couples, which is what my bill will provide.  It
saddens me that domestic partnership has become a civil rights battle in Florida.  It is
time for all Floridians to be accepted and respected for who they are.”

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