Florida couples challenge federal marriage ban
May 13 2004 12:00 AM ET
Four Florida gay and lesbian couples say they will be the first to contest an eight-year-old federal law banning same-sex marriage. Although gay rights groups have limited their legal challenges to state laws, attorney Ellis Rubin says he plans to file a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. Rubin was denied marriage licenses for the four couples at the Miami-Dade County clerk's office. "I've talked to several gay organization lawyers, and they claim that they don't want to go into federal court because they're picking their states very carefully," Rubin said Monday. "I don't believe in sitting back and letting a steamroller roll over me."
Rubin filed a challenge to an equivalent Florida law in state court in February, and a second lawsuit against the state law was filed last month. But the new lawsuit may not be welcomed by its intended beneficiaries. David Buckel, director of the marriage project with the gay rights group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he couldn't say whether he supported the new lawsuit without seeing it but had reservations about its timing and location. "Thoughtful lawyers all around the country have been holding back from" a federal challenge, said Buckel, whose organization is challenging state marriage laws in California, New Jersey, New York, and Washington State. "In any civil rights movement you've got to pick the right time and the right place, because what you want to do is win."
Rubin, who grabbed headlines in the 1970s with a novel but unsuccessful television intoxication defense in a murder trial, believes the federal lawsuit could force the U.S. Supreme Court to address the question of gay marriage as much as two years before other lawsuits working their way through state courts. He also claimed that gay advocacy groups are using federal and state gay marriage bans to achieve fund-raising goals. "I believe that these gays rights organizations have just perpetuated themselves by putting on masks of appeals for money," Rubin said. "They accomplish absolutely nothing except raising more money. I think this case will put an end to all that."
The suit contends that the federal law is a discriminatory violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and violates the full faith and credit clause by allowing states to refuse to recognize gay marriages from other states. Defendants in the lawsuit will be Gov. Jeb Bush, state attorney general Charles Crist, and Miami-Dade County clerk Harvey Ruvin. Bush, brother of President Bush, supports the 1997 state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and bans the recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.