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U.S. Supreme Court Gay Marriage Decisions Prompt Celebration At Florida Capitol

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two landmark decisions Wednesday – both by 5-4 votes. 

The Court first struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.  Next, it vacated a lower court’s decision on California’s Proposition 8.  While this latter decision didn’t set up marriage as a civil right, it does clear the way for gay marriages to resume in California. 

Florida Representative Linda Stewart said the decisions are good news for the movement as a whole, but supporters of gay marriage in Florida have plenty of work ahead.

“Well, we didn’t get a grand slam, but we certainly got something to be proud of.   We should all be very happy with the DOMA decision, and we should be able to, I think, get a little bit more headway.  But we do need to keep working.  This is not the end for Florida, that’s for sure,” Stewart said.

Oddly enough, the Court's narrow ruling has pleased some Florida conservatives as well.  A 2008 amendment to Florida’s state Constitution bans same-sex unions that resemble marriage.  Neither of Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions will change this.  John Stemberger, of the Florida Family Policy Council, says this is a victory for state's rights.

“The good news is that in Florida, our constitutional amendment which defines marriage still stands, so the court did respect state’s rights and did not force a kind of one size fits all standard on this issue allowing states to define marriage,” said Stemberger.

On Wednesday afternoon, demonstrators took over the steps of Florida’s Old Historic State Capitol to celebrate the rulings.  Passing drivers honked their horns in support, and the crowd chanted slogans calling for marriage equality. 

Andy Janecek, a board member of the Family Tree Community Center thinks the decisions will create momentum for change at the state level in the future.

“It doesn’t impact us directly yet in Florida, but today’s the day that’s going to start the conversation to get us moving back in that direction,” Janecek said.

Steven Hall, Chair of the Family Tree board, echoed his optimism, but he says there are still many complications to overcome.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we’re celebrating, but there’s still a great deal of work to do, with some of the decisions and how it’s gonna impact immigration, how it’s gonna impact those who are legally recognized in one state but they’re living in a state that doesn’t, so there’s still a great deal to come.”

In striking down DOMA, married same-sex couples who move to Florida should be entitled to federal benefits.  The administration of these benefits, though, remains murky in state's that don’t recognize same-sex marriages.  Many federal agencies look to the state of residence to confirm a marriage. 

Despite the challenges, Janecek summed up the hopeful tone of the gathering.

“We’ll be going a state at a time until we get it and I think we’re gonna start right here in Florida,” Janecek said.

If supporters of marriage equality hope to overturn the state constitutional amendment they’ll need to first get it on the ballot, and then convince 60 percent of the electorate to agree with them at the polls.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.