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  • Posted April 10, 2014 by
    key west Fort Lauderdale, Florida

    Keys couple is joined in lawsuit by a Fort Lauderdale couple on Marriage Equality


    Friday April 11, 2014 Brian Steele and Anthony Cicalese joined Aaron Huntsman and Lee Jones in a lawsuit against the State of Florida to recognize gay marriage. Anthony Cicalese and Brian Steele were legally married in the State of California in 2008.


    Anthony Cicalese and Brian Steele are very grateful to their attorneys Restivo, Reilly & Vigil-Fariñas for all letting them join the lawsuit. Steele also thanks  Aaron and Lee for getting the ball rolling just by doing the right thing in Key West earlier this month.


    Steele said, "We won't stop until all people are treated equally under the law in the State of Florida as they are in other states!"


    April 1, 2014 Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones show a flier prominently displayed at the County Clerk's Office explaining why licenses for same-sex marriages can't be issued.


    The Florida Keys have long been ahead of the pack in the push for equal rights for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. This past week, a gay Key West couple put the islands back in the spotlight in that fight.


    In 2008, the GOP-controlled state Legislature pushed a state constitutional amendment -- it passed with nearly 62 percent of the vote -- prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying and, therefore, barring them of all rights accorded those who are married to the opposite sex.


    Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones -- a couple for 11 years -- knew this when they applied for a marriage license Tuesday at the County Clerk's Office in Key West, and knew they would be rejected. Their Tavernier-based lawyer, Bernadette Restivo, also knew this, and immediately sued County Clerk Amy Heavilin to get the amendment overturned, saying the U.S. Constitution calls for equal protection of all citizens and trumps all other law.


    Seven other couples -- six from Miami-Dade County and one from Tallahassee -- have also sued to get the amendment overturned.


    This is not the first time the Keys have been out front in fighting inequality when it comes to gay rights.


    In late 2008, Key West attorney Wayne Larue Smith and his longtime partner, Daniel Skahen, found out that, after a years-long legal battle, they could legally adopt the young boy they fostered for seven years. That stemmed from a ruling by Monroe County Circuit Court Judge David Audlin saying the adoption could go forward because Florida's 1977 law barring adoptions by gay people arose from "unveiled expressions of bigotry."


    The state never challenged Audlin's ruling, and the adoption ban was lifted for good in 2011 stemming from a case in Miami-Dade County.


    The Keys have always been a place for tolerance.


    Monroe County has a law on the books barring discrimination not only based on race, religion and other factors, but also based on sexual orientation. It means gay people can't be denied accommodations, credit and other services merely because of their sexual preference.


    The county government also has a policy allowing same-sex couples who have a county employee in the relationship to receive health insurance and other benefits just like all county employees receive.


    Key West has a domestic-partner registration program, but for the most part it's just a piece of paper, not legal protection, you receive after registering. Its main goal is for same-sex couples to have an official document recognizing their relationship when they go for bank loans and the like.


    The lawsuit against the clerk of courts office is the first step in what is expected to be a long legal road in the case, said attorneys on both sides.


    Huntsman and Jones' lawsuit is the first-step in a case that is highly expected to draw appeals from whichever side loses. That means the case could go before the Third District Court of Appeals, and perhaps the Florida Supreme Court and perhaps even the U.S. Supreme Court.


    "They (Huntsman and Jones) know this a long journey, but they're in it to win it," Restivo said, adding that neither she nor her clients harbor any personal animosity against Heavlin or the clerk of court's office.


    We believe Florida -- its politicians and many residents -- won't enter the 21st Century anytime soon when it comes to giving gay couples the same rights as hetero couples, but we also believe that ultimately, change will come.


    "If it's going to happen, it has to happen in Key West," Huntsman said. "Change happens in Monroe County, and nobody's ever tried this here yet."


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