South Florida Lesbians Challenge Gay Marriage Law: "We Are Not Second-Class Citizens"
Photo by Phillip Pessar via Miami New Times Flickr group
In 2002, Heather Brassner, a Palm Beach County art dealer, and her then-partner, Megan Lade, were joined together in a civil union in Vermont. Though they were initially committed to each other, the relationship fell apart about four years ago, when Lade allegedly cheated on Brassner and ran off with a man.
"My ex cheated on me four years ago and then disappeared with the person she was cheating with," Brassner says.
Because in 2008, Florida voters amended the constitution to recognize only heterosexual marriage, Brassner was caught in legal limbo and was unable to get her civil union annulled.
As Brassner explains, she would have had to be a resident of Vermont for one year to get a dissolution of the civil union there without Lade's signature. "I hired a private eye, but Megan is unfindable," Brassner says, "which has left me with limited options. I could move to Vermont for a year to achieve residency, but I don't really even have that option. I only traveled to Vermont to specifically get a civil union. I have lived in Florida for 14 years. My family business is here as well. I just don't have the resources to move to Vermont for a year."
Last year, when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the legal ruling allowed Brassner to raise the issue of her breakup with Lade in the Florida courts.
"I have been waiting for DOMA to fall so that I could file for divorce. Until DOMA fell I had no legal recourse in Florida because, as you know, DOMA basically said that no state has to recognize a same-sex union in any other state, and these unions were not recognized on a federal level either."
She filed suit in Broward County and was elated in July when the judge on her case, Dale Cohen, declared Florida's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. Gay marriage activists hoped his decision would lead to Broward's issuing marriage licenses, but first a technicality held up the case, and on Friday, Florida's attorney general, Pam Bondi, was granted a motion to intervene in the case. If Cohen rules again in favor of marriage equality, gay marriage experts expect that Bondi will file an appeal.
Brassner's lawsuit against the state is one of about five high-profile cases that are challenging the state's ban. However, September has proved be a tough time for marriage equality thus far. A case at the federal level is being appealed by Bondi, and the Florida Supreme Court has refused to hear another.
With the help of online dating, Brassner found a new girlfriend in Whole Foods employee Jennifer Feagin, whom she hopes to marry one day.
"I felt lost, but thanks to Megan, I have been found. It all led me to Jennifer, so I know it happened for a reason," said Brassner. "Jennifer loves me unconditionally, as I love her. She makes my heart skip a beat and my soul feel uplifted!
"I believe in fighting for equality for all. We are all members of the human race, and my hope is that love and kindness become the rule of the land. We are not second-class citizens, nor is anyone else. I believe that being seen as equal goes hand in hand with human dignity."
To Brassner, the fight for equality transcends having a document as a proof for marriage.
"It's not about a piece of paper; it's about certain rights that we are denied because we are not married. Hospital visitation, right to make medical decisions, her ability to stay in our home if something were to happen to me, ad infinitum...," said Brassner.
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