Fighting to protect our First Responders and their families in Florida

Editor's Note: This profile was written by Jennie O'Leary in partnership with Equality Florida. If you are a Florida First Responder and you'd like to join her in supporting the Freedom to Marry, click here.

For 26 years, Donna Brown, a retired police sergeant, put her life on the line every day for her community. She and her colleagues in the Tallahassee Police Department protected and served everyone, regardless of race, religion, economic status or sexual orientation.

Floridians count on law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics and other first responders that take risks to help keep us all safe.

But, if something happened to Donna while in the line of duty, her partner, Lynne, would not have been protected the same way as Donna's straight colleagues.

"I am a retired first responder. During my career, I lost three co-workers who were killed in the line of duty. I supervised the Homicide Unit for 10 years and unfortunately I am too familiar with what that means," said Donna.

Nothing makes up for the loss of a loved one, but their families were assured surviving spouse benefits from federal and state agencies.

"While employed at TPD, I had to secure my own life insurance policy at an additional financial burden to ensure my family was taken care of in case of the worst case scenario," said Donna.

The U.S. Department of Justice provides a death benefit for the surviving spouse of a first responder killed in the line of duty. The State of Florida does as well. Since Florida does not recognize marriage for same-sex couples, surviving domestic partners may not be eligible for these death benefits due to guidelines sometimes stating spouse and others beneficiary.

Even though Donna is retired and surviving spouse benefits are no longer an issue, she wants to stand up and fight for other first responders in Florida. Plus, she wants all same-sex couples in Florida to have the same respect in her home state and be allowed to marry.

“When Lynne and I can finally legally marry, it will have been a hard fought battle by many. We want our wedding to be a celebration, a celebration of our love for each other and a celebration of the love and support we have had for years from our family and friends. We want everyone to be there and celebrate with us," said Donna.

And, while she understands and respects the decisions some make to get married in other states, that option was just not for them. Donna grew up in Florida and this is where the two of them have built a life together.

In fact, after the recent favorable court decisions this summer in Florida, Donna and Lynne set a date to be married. They hired a wedding planner and made all the deposits with the venue, caterer, florist and other vendors.

"We were confident Pam Bondi [Florida Attorney General] was going to do the right thing," said Donna.

But, their wedding plans are on hold now, due to the appeals and stays by the courts, preventing couples all over the state from getting married. They wait for the legal cases to make their way through the courts. In the meantime, first responders are taking risks every day.

Being so close to realizing marriage has driven Donna and Lynne to stand up. This summer the couple was part of a group of same-sex couples who delivered petitions to Pam Bondi at her office in Tallahassee.

“I was honored to be the groups spokesperson but even prouder to listen to all of the other couples speak out and tell their stories," said Donna.

She continues to push for marriage of same-sex couples by speaking out at town halls and volunteering with Equality Florida. She feels her efforts are important for first responders and all Floridians.

“As a first responder, I put my life on the line for 26 years, like police officers all over the world. Officers strive to treat everyone in their communities equally, all I ask is for that in return," said Donna.

About Donna Brown and Lynne Morneau

Donna and Lynne live together with their three dogs in Tallahassee. Donna served in the Tallahassee Police Department for 26 years and retired as a sergeant. She grew up in Titusville and moved to Tallahassee to attend Florida State University. Lynne, a Canadian citizen, is currently a Sr. Programming Consultant for North America for a global software company. Together they enjoy playing golf, going to the beach and travelling. Donna and Lynne are waiting for when they can set their wedding date again.