MIAMI — A coalition of black and Hispanic civil rights groups and pastors is defending Florida’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
They are challenging the grounds of another lawsuit that seeks to overturn the ban.
The groups said Friday that the effort to overturn the ban threatens to violate the rights of the Florida voters who approved the ban by a wide margin in November 2008.
The ban defines marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife” and states that no other unions can be recognized. It passed with 62 percent of the vote.
“The lawsuit directly infringes on Florida voters’ rights to amend their state constitution and their access to the political process,” said the coalition’s attorney, Alexander Alfano.
The groups, including the Florida Democratic League and People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality, filed court papers Feb. 25 saying a judge should dismiss the lawsuit. They also have launched an online petition to gather support for their efforts, www.donttrashmyvote.com.
In January, six gay couples sued in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, saying Florida’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Their supporters say attitudes toward gay marriage have changed in Florida and elsewhere. Their lawsuit is one of many similar cases pending nationwide.
“Equal protection is the foundation of our democracy, and it is the role of the courts to enforce that requirement when majorities abuse the democratic process to discriminate against minorities,” Elizabeth Schwartz, an attorney working on the couples’ case, said in an email. “Florida’s marriage ban unfairly excludes same-sex couples from one of our society’s most important freedoms.”
She said courts across the country are recognizing that laws like Florida’s violate the constitutional requirement of equal protection.
A separate lawsuit filed earlier this month in federal court argues that Florida discriminates against gay couples by not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in state where those unions are legal.
The office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is defending the state in the federal lawsuit. A spokeswoman said Bondi’s office is monitoring the case in Miami-Dade County.
Judges have struck down gay marriage bans as discriminatory in other states, and the U.S. Supreme Court last year issued a decision invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
In 2010, gays in Florida won a key legal victory when the state declined to appeal a decision striking down a decades-old ban on adoptions by gay couples.