Locally, there's celebration, but 'still a long way to go'


Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

A year ago June 30, Gainesville residents Jarrod Cruz and Brian Stipsits traveled to Ithaca, N.Y., to legally get hitched.

They chose Ithaca because one of the students Cruz taught when he worked at Cornell University, Svante Myrick, was Ithaca's mayor and officiated over their union.

"It was one of the most important decisions that we ever had to make," said Cruz, who took his husband's name. Both now legally go by Cruz-Stipsits.

Wednesday's Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 come as an early anniversary present for the married couple, who were among about 70 people outside Gainesville City Hall on Wednesday evening celebrating the high court's decisions. Most wore red to show their support for marriage equality.

"Today, we immediately gained access to 1,000 plus federal rights we hadn't had before," Pam Moorman said at the rally. She and her spouse, Tracy Moorman, were married in Vermont in 2010.

They are registered domestic partners in Gainesville, but in most of Florida they don't share the same rights as other married couples. Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2008.

"We anticipate this will open things up to fight at the state level," Tracy Moorman said.

Considering they knew that the Supreme Court was going to be dealing with the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 this summer, the Cruz-Stipsitses had to decide whether to get married in a state that recognized same-sex marriage or wait to see if the court's decision would create a path for them to get married in Florida one day.

"We chose to get married in New York and hope Florida one day would recognize same-sex marriage," Jarrod said.

That day could be a long way off.

"With the ruling today, there is still a long way to go," Jarrod said. "The ruling creates a path on which I believe within five years that change will happen."

While the Supreme Court's decision allows the Cruz-Stipsitses and other legally married same-sex couples in Florida to file federal taxes jointly and receive other federal benefits, the Florida ban puts limits on the couple's ability to prove they are married.

State law bars the couple hospital visitation rights and from claiming a partner as a spouse on documents and deeds. It affects property taxes and homeownership rights.

The Cruz-Stipsitses also are required to register their domestic partnership with the city of Gainesville and the University of Florida, where Jarrod works as director of intercultural engagement through multicultural and diversity affairs. UF, part of the state university system, recognizes domestic partnerships even though the state itself does not.

"We need the state Legislature and governor and others to use this as a model, that the federal government recognizes this and it is our turn to strike our constitutional ban down and recognize full equality for every individual," Jarrod said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he would defend the state's constitutional ban.

"In 2008, Florida voters amended their constitution and said we are a traditional marriage state. Marriage is between a man and a woman," Scott said at a news conference. "As governor of the state, I will uphold the existing law of the land, and that's the law of our state."

Jim Merritt, pastor of the Trinity Metropolitan Church in Gainesville, has been involved in the fight for marriage equality for decades. He sued the state in 2004 so he and his partner of 18 years, Albert Leach, could marry in Florida. They lost the lawsuit but say they hope Florida will recognize gay marriage one day.

"We've always said we are not going somewhere else to get married," said Merritt, who also is director for marriage equality for his denomination.

After Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, however, he said he and his partner might reconsider. If they were to get married legally, it would be in Boston, where Merritt attended seminary.

"Marriage equality took a huge step forward, and we still know, particularly in places like Florida, we have a long way to go," Merritt said.

Even though Floridians still don't have full equality yet, Merritt said, the court's decision was cause to rejoice.

"It's the first major ruling in our lifetime that says when the Constitution guarantees rights to all people, it includes us," he said.

There is a coordinated effort already underway to overturn Florida's ban, he said. One path would be to reverse the constitutional amendment, which would require a ballot referendum and getting Floridians to vote against something they approved five years ago.

Another path would be to challenge the law in court based on today's ruling, Merritt said.

"Amendment 2 in Florida is unconstitutional and an inappropriate addition to the constitution because it singles out a class of people the way the defense of marriage act was," Merritt said. "Because of that, the defense of marriage act was overruled today."

Terry Fleming, vice president of the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida, said the LGBT community is excited about the ruling because it allows couples married in states that allow same-sex marriage to receive more than 1,500 federal benefits and rights.

More importantly, he said, the court's decision "shows a tectonic shift in our cultural acceptance of same-sex marriage. Ultimately, the ban in Florida will be overturned, and hopefully not too far in the future same-sex marriage will be allowed."

On a personal note, Fleming said he was excited because he and his partner of 16 years, Vertigo Moody, were planning to travel to Washington, D.C., to get married in the next few months.

"I am walking on air," he said. "This means my government is accepting me as a full citizen of this country. The fact my husband and I will have that full recognition is important to me."

They won't be able to celebrate that union with a marriage ceremony in Florida, but maybe one day they will, Fleming said. "We look forward to the day we can celebrate with our families and friends here in Florida."

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