Local supporters, opponents of same-sex marriage make cases
As lawyers argued the issue in Washington, political and social leaders in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties predicted sweeping repercussions when the U.S. Supreme Court eventually hands down a decision on same-sex marriage.
The court took up California’s Proposition 8, which bans the union, but gay and lesbian couples here and elsewhere hope the justices will grant a constitutional right to same-sex marriage beyond the Golden State. Today, the court hears arguments on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and woman.
“I think it will have big ramifications for our area, including me personally because me and my partner can get married and have all the rights and abilities of taking care of each other and other legal rights,” said St. Petersburg Councilman Steve Kornell, who is openly gay.
“I think that’s huge.”
Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, also in a same-sex relationship, said he hopes the court rejects Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act as antithetical to values articulated by the Founding Fathers.
“They established long ago the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “They didn’t intend for these principles to be applied arbitrarily or according to political whims or ideologies.”
About 200 people demonstrated Tuesday night outside the federal courthouse on Florida Avenue downtown, listening to speakers and carrying signs supporting same-sex marriage.
One of the speakers was 13-year-old Tyler Meagley, of Hillsborough County, who said he has two mothers. “Marriage should be seen as a bond between two people who love each other,” the boy said. “Gay people aren’t some poison.”
Religious conservatives argue that a Supreme Court decision in favor of gay marriage would invalidate initiatives or laws in 30 states, including Florida, that define marriage as between a man and a woman. The initiatives passed with an average majority of 67 percent, said Hillsborough Christian conservative activist Terry Kemple.
“I think the best thing they could do right now is to not make a decision,” Kemple said. “They would be nullifying the votes of 67 percent of the votes of people. I don’t think that’s the place the Supreme Court should be.”
The court cases will resonate in the Tampa area with the recent creation of domestic partner registries, giving unmarried couples many of the same legal rights and protections as married couples. Though the registries are available to all couples, opponents portray them as a first step toward legalizing same-sex marriage.
In Hillsborough County, commissioners narrowly rejected domestic partner registries, putting the county out of step with other local area jurisdictions that adopted them, including Tampa and St. Petersburg.
It’s unclear what effect a constitutional validation for same-sex marriages would have on domestic registries. Kemple thinks it would end the debate over the registries, which otherwise seems likely to resurface before the county commission.
“If the court were to strike down Proposition 8 or DOMA, then there is no longer any reason for the homosexual community to push for domestic partner registries because they could get married if they want to,” Kemple said.
Beckner disagreed, saying the registries are appealing to many couples, gay and straight, who choose not to marry.
Tampa Councilwoman Lisa Montelione and her fiance, Josh Geary, were among the first couples to sign up for the city’s domestic registry in June. Montelione agrees with Beckner that the registries afford legal protections to relationships like hers.
“The domestic partner registry in Hillsborough County is a separate issue than the Supreme Court, but it’s along the same lines,” said Montelione, who voted with the other six council members in favor of Tampa’s registry.
“It’s about making the decision for myself: who I want to be involved with and how committed a relationship I want to have,” she said. “It’s all about choice and not having the government dictate what your status should be.”
Reporter José Patiño Girona contributed to this report.