PHOTOS: Freedom to Marry & EQFL talk next steps for marriage at Miami Town Hall

This week, on Wednesday, December 10, Freedom to Marry in partnership with Equality Florida hosted a Town Hall event in Miami, FL to discuss how we'll move marriage forward in Florida and how supporters in the Sunshine State can pitch in to the campaign to win the freedom to marry in Florida and nationwide. Freedom to Marry and Equality Florida were also proud to be joined at the event by SAVE and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have been leading critical marriage litigation in one of two federal legal cases that could lead to the freedom to marry in Florida as soon as early January. 

The event this evening featured Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson and Ana Navarro, Republican strategist and political commentator for ABC and CNN. They were joined by Denise Hueso and Sandra Newson, who have been together for more than 17 years and are plaintiffs in Grimsley and Albu v. Scott, the landmark case from the ACLU and SAVE in which a federal judge declared Florida's anti-marriage laws unconstitutional in August. Stratton Pollitizer, Co-Founder and Deputy Director of Equality Florida, moderated the panel. Other plaintiff couples in attendance included Bob Collier and Chuck Hunziker, military veterans who recently celebrated their 51st anniversary; Richard Milstein and Eric Hankin, who have been together for more than 12 years; and Juan Del Hierro, who is raising a young child with his husband Thomas. 

The Landscape for the Freedom to Marry in Florida 

It's been an exciting year for marriage in Florida, which this year has taken important steps forward and contributed immeasurably to the national momentum toward the freedom to marry.

"We are winning here in Florida," Evan Wolfson said on the panel, adding, "We are winning nationwide. But winning is not won - and we're not done until we're done. We need the courts to feel that Florida is ready for the freedom to marry, and that only comes if we do our work now. We know what's working - we know the strategy. We need to keep doing that work, not just wait until the 11th Circuit or the Supreme Court rules."

Just last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit denied the state of Florida's request to extend a stay in an August federal ruling as the appeal proceeds, underscoring the point that there is no good reason to delay the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. The stay is now set to expire January 5, and unless the United States Supreme Court intervenes before then, the first days of 2015 could be filled with wedding bells across the Sunshine State.

EQFL's Stratton Pollitzer directe audience members to the many resources Equality Florida has prepared regarding the marriage ruling, including an FAQ talking couples through the process of how to marry in Florida should the stay be lifted on January 5. He explained that if the stay is lifted, "We expect the federal ruling to be binding statewide," just as similar rulings have been in so many other states this year. He also urged audience members to continue working toward the freedom to marry, reminding them that the case will still proceed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals - where we must still seal a victory - even if the stay is lifted. But he joined in on sharing the joy of last month's decision, referencing the love of his own life, saying, "Christopher and I have been together 26 years, and I'll be in line January 6 if freedom to marry comes to Florida."

In total this year, five different federal and state judges in Florida have issued rulings in favor of the freedom to marry. And even as the federal case proceeds to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, marriage cases are headed toward the Florida Supreme Court after consideration by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th District Courts of Appeals in FL. 

The Republican Party's Continuing Evolution on Marriage

As a Republican strategist and commentator for CNN and ABC, Ana Navarro has long been making the conservative case for the freedom to marry. Navarro formerly served as the National Co-Chair of Senator John McCain's Hispanic Advisory Council; additionally, she has served as a leader in the Executive Office of the Governor for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and on the 2012 presidential campaign team for Governor Jon Huntsman. 

Navarro spoke on Wednesday about the Republican Party's movement forward on the freedom to marry in recent years and predicted that vocal support among Republicans will only increase in the coming months and years. 

"Republicans agree that marriage is the backbone of family," Navarro said. "And I couldn't agree more. We are Constitutionalists as Republicans - and the Constitution requires that we treat everyone equally. As a Florida Republican, I'm so tired of seeing my taxpayer dollars put toward defending discrimination. Gay marriage is not just a #gay issue. All Republicans need to get with the program and see how important this is to so many different groups of people."

Stratton also asked Navarro more about the role that marriage plays in political elections, and if it had any role in the 2014 election. 

"Marriage used to be used as a wedge issue," she explained. "But now, you see Republicans taking proactive movement in favor of marriage. In 2014, marriage played remarkably little - it didn't make or break any election. I think the same will be true in 2016. I think the question of marriage for same-sex couples will be moot by 2016."

Faces of the Fight: Making the Case in the Courtroom

Denise Hueso and Sandra Newson spoke out on the panel about why they signed on as plaintiffs last year in Grimsley and Albu v. Scott, a federal legal case seeking respect for marriages legally performed in other states filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and SAVE. The women have been together for 17 years and live in Miami, where they are building their lives and raising their 15-year-old son Jansil even without the protections that marriage provides. 

The women married in Massachusetts, which they called "an uneventful event," referencing the very fact that it is an ordinary, everyday thing for same-sex couples to marry in so many other states. It was a wonderful moment for them, they said. "But," Denise added, "Miami is our home. And when we got back here, the impact of not having our relationship recognized hurt constantly. When you call the woman you share your life with - the woman you are raising a child with - your 'partner' or your 'girlfriend,' it just doesn't have the same validity as 'wife.'"

Denise and Sandra have been caring for their son Jansil since he was 10 years old. They said that ensuring he is protected as a child with two mothers is part of why they wanted to file this case. 

"Our life together matters - and our son's life matters, so we decided it was worth being in the fishbowl of being a plaintiff in a marriage equality case," they said. 

Several other plaintiff couples from the federal lawsuit attended the event, and they spoke with attendees later in the evening about why they are committed to making their dreams of the freedom to marry in Florida a reality. 

How Florida Marriage Supporters Can Get Involved

Evan Wolfson and Stratton Pollitzer detailed at the event the many ways that supporters of the freedom to marry can pitch into the campaign to win marriage in Florida, encouraging all supporters to take action in their state. Here's how you can involved: 

  • Urge your Mayor to support marriage for all: Florida boasts a bipartisan list of nearly 40 Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, one of the largest demonstrations of support from any state. Check to make sure your mayor is a supporter, and if they're not, send them a message. LEARN MORE.
  • Encourage First Responders in Florida to Sign an amicus brief to the 11th Circuit: Even if the freedom to marry takes effect in January, the federal case will still proceed to the 11th Circuit, so it remains critical for Floridians from across the state to raise their voices in support of marriage for all. Nearly 200 First Responders in Florida - police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical professionals - have already signed onto a "friend-of-the-court" brief to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. LEARN MORE.
  • Tell your Faith Leader to speak out for the freedom to marry: The voices of faith leaders are more important than ever as we continue to work to show that all of Florida is ready for the freedom to marry. LEARN MORE.
  • Ask Your Employer to voice support for marriage: A third amicus brief in need of signers is the brief featuring Employers for the Freedom to Marry, including business leaders who understand that denying the freedom to marry hurts Floridians, restricts them from treating all of their employees fairly, and provides unnecessary logistical challenges for businesses in non-marriage states. LEARN MORE.

What's Next for Marriage in Florida? 

With the freedom to marry on the horizon and same-sex couples potentially being able to marry in Florida as soon as January 6 (unless the United States Supreme Court puts the case on hold as it is considered by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals), it's an exciting time for marriage in the Sunshine State. And even if the stay is lifted, the case to the 11th Circuit will proceed, and it will be vital to show that all of Florida, Georgia and Alabama - the other 11th Circuit states - are ready for marriage. 

But with such joyous momentum, it's more important than ever to stay focused on the goal: The freedom to marry, once and for all, with no questions asked, in all 50 states. That's the point that Evan Wolfson drove home on Wednesday's event.

We didn't get to 35 states with the freedom to marry overnight," Evan said. "This has been a decades-long struggle. We've had lawsuits, we've had ballot measure struggles, we've had public education campaigns - there are many different vehicles. But with all of those vehicles, the engine of that change is conversation: With people who are gay, with couples, with other supporters. This is not just about the court case - it's about the conversations we are having across the state. It fuels the litigation."

"And even when we put Florida in the win column," he reminded everyone, "We'll still have 14 states left that discriminate against same-sex couples' marriages. Until we end #marriage discrimination throughout the country - until we bring it home - we're not done."

Freedom to Marry and Equality Florida thanks everyone involved in the Miami Town Hall, including Ana Navarro, Denise and Sandra, SAVE, the ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and all of the supporters of the freedom to marry in Miami who came out to the event. See more photos below: