Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tampa GLBT activists celebrate - but wonder when same-sex marriage will come to Florida

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 10:00 PM

Barb Lawrence & Kimmy Denny celebrate the Supreme Courts decision on same-sex marriage Wednesday night in Tampa
  • Chip Weiner
  • Barb Lawrence & Kimmy Denny celebrate the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage Wednesday night in Tampa
A crowd estimated to be around 100 happy people gathered in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa Wednesday night to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overthrow the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which will now extend many benefits to couples in the states where same-sex marriage is legal, as well as give the Obama administration the ability to broaden other benefits through executive actions.

But Florida remains one of 37 states banning such unions, putting that into the state constitution with the passage of Amendment Two in 2008. So the question is: When does the effort begin to overturn that law?

"Nothing really changed for us, " admitted Tampa activist Zeke Fread, addressing the crowd who gathered on the sidewalk on Florida Avenue outside the courthouse. But though too true for Floridian same-sex couples who would like to get married anytime soon, the fact that the court ruled as it did today was a cause for celebration for everyone in the crowd.

"This morning I cried like a baby," said Jarrod Scarborough with the group GetEQUAL. "Section 3 of DOMA is dead! And all I can say is ding-dong, DOMA is dead."

Scarborough acknowledged that "we still have a long way to go," but said the night was for celebrating.

"Love, hug and kiss the one you love," shouted Pastor Joe Parramore with the New Journey Fellowship and Ministries based in Ybor City. "But more importantly. Get-in-volved," he said, enunciating each syllable. "We still have more work to do."

Joyce Hamilton-Henry with the ACLU said that the civil rights organization is prepared to spend $10 million nationally over the next few years in many of the 37 states that still ban same-sex marriage, though she later indicated that money will probably be allocated more towards the states where the odds are better gay marriage could pass.

What about Florida's chances? GLBT activists lately have been citing a PPP poll taken earlier this year that showed 75 percent support for either same-sex marriage or civil unions in Florida.

Sally Phillips with the Hillsborough County GLBTA Democratic caucus called the events of the day "incredible," but added that the gay community still has a ways to go to be equal to what is allowed in other states in the union. "We're in Florida. We've still got to overturn Amendment Two."

Phillips then said that she had "heard some talk" about putting together some coalitions to defeat that 2008 amendment that bans same-sex marriage. "This is a wonderful step, but we still live in Florida," she reiterated.

GetEQUAL's Jarrod Scarborough then received a huge cheer when he asked the audience what they thought about repealing the marriage ban. "The reality of that is that it's something that's going to take a tremendous amount of work. It is going to take people walking the streets, going door-to-door, talking to your neighbors, talking to your friends. And we need to start organizing ourselves to do that."

But activist Zeke Fread said that though he would like to see the ban repealed tomorrow, he didn't think aiming for a ballot measure in 2014 would be advisable, citing the fact that historically off-year elections in Florida see far fewer Democrats go to the polls than in presidential election years. "In mid-term elections, the majority of the voters are senior citizens," he said. "2014 might be too soon."

A few activists in the crowd shouted, "No!", while others could be seen nodding their heads in agreement with Fread.

But Cathy James with the Hillsborough County GLBTA Democratic caucus said that she doesn't believe that next year will be a typical off-year election in Florida, citing the pent-up energy to oust Governor Rick Scott and the possibility of a medical marijuana initiative that could spur many more Democrats than usual to the polls.

"Typically they say it costs about $3 million to get something on the ballot, " James told CL. " But what a great ballot it would be, to elect a new governor. To allow people that are in a lot of pain and agony to have the ability to have medical marijuana to help them with their chronic illnesses, and to be able to overturn a really stupid amendment in the state of Florida. It would just be the best trifecta ever."

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