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Miami and Key West Same-Sex Couples File to Merge Lawsuits

Since both their lawsuits challenge the state's ban on same-sex marriage, the six couples and the Equality Florida Institute in the Pareto v. Ruvin lawsuit in Miami-Dade are hoping to join forces with the couple in Monroe County, Aaron Huntsman and William "Lee" Jones, in their continued fight to bring marriage equality to Florida.

The couples from both counties have already filed to consolidate their cases and are now awaiting approval from the court. If the cases are merged, then all seven couples will continue through the appeal process as a united force.

"If it is approved, then this will be awesome news," said Vanessa Alenier, who along with her partner Melanie is challenging the ban. "This merger will just makes us stronger."

Earlier this month, the couples from both lawsuits boldly went to court to stand up for their right to marry, even though they were accosted by some religious protestors after the hearing. Their cases resulted in historic decisions from Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel and Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, both of whom ruled in their favor.

The judges held that the state's ban was discriminatory and deprived same-sex couples of the equal protections guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution, rights that are unalienable and not subject to the majority's opinion.

Though both judges allowed the same-sex couples to marry, their judicial orders were stayed pending the final decision reached through appeals-- meaning marriage licenses will not be given out yet to same-sex couples in either Miami-Dade or Monroe County.

The appeals on both rulings were made on behalf of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi who stated she intends on defending the state's amended constitution, which doesn't recognize same-sex relationships. In 2008, a majority of Florida voters endorsed to amend Florida's constitution to only recognize marriages between a man and woman. Many conservative groups, such as the Christian Family Coalition (CFC), stand opposed to same-sex marriage, and feel their 2008 vote has been disrespected by the rulings of both judges.

In the wake of the stays, the couples in the lawsuits (along with many other proponents of marriage equality) also feel let down. When the rulings were initially released, their hopes were raised immensely only to have their dream of marrying put on hold.

"I understand that people who would otherwise be getting married right now are sad, and the continued delay is indeed a hardship, but the stays are the results of due process," said Row Iliescu, the South Florida development coordinator for Equality Florida, one of the state's leading LGBT advocacy organizations. "I am confident though that the appeals process will result in a similar ruling-- that the ban is unConstitutional."

The fight for marriage equality now continues to the next judicial arena, the Third District Court of Appeal based in Miami, though the couples are trying to take their case straight to the Florida Supreme Court. If the higher courts (potentially including the U.S. Supreme Court) judge in accordance with Zabel's and Garcia's decision, then same-sex marriage will be legalized throughout Florida.

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Jonathan Kendall
Contact: Jonathan Kendall

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