The right to marry is critical to Florida state Rep. Michele Rayner. The only lesbian now serving in the Florida legislature, she married Bianca Goolsby in 2017, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land.
But her home state never repealed a ban on same-sex unions from the books.
“We need to make allowances for folks to marry who they love, regardless of what that love looks like,” the Democratic politician said.
While bringing state law in line with the landmark ruling may seem like simple housekeeping, Rayner remains aware that her marriage and those of thousands of other Florida couples remain vulnerable to a change in whim from a conservative court majority. With three new justices appointed by President Donald Trump, including replacements for LGBTQ+ rights defenders Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that’s not a far-out concern.
“I would argue it’s settled law,” Rayner said of the 2015 court ruling that allows same-sex unions in all 50 states. “But there is always a possibility things could happen.”
She filed a bill Monday that would remove all provisions in Florida law related to marriages between same-sex couples, truly establishing equal rights for all couples.
One doesn’t have to dig far into Florida history to see how changeable public opinion has been on the issue of marriage. It was just in 2008 that Florida voters passed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It passed the same day Barack Obama won the state and presidency, but he was opposed to marriage equality at the time as well.
Obama evolved over his first term and ultimately filed a brief in support of courts ruling for marriage equality (after a notable nudge from his vice president, now president-elect, Joe Biden). That shows how rapidly sentiment changed around the issue but is also a reminder that many voters still participating in elections today happily voted to ban marital bliss for same-sex couples less than a decade and a half ago.
That may explain why previous attempts to repeal Florida’s statutory restrictions on marriage never even got a vote in committee, and Rayner may still face an uphill road. Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Florida legislature.
But Rayner feels her own story could help this time around. She notes that her wife has met several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in the House since Rayner’s election in the fall. “Of course they all love her,” Rayner said. “When you make it personal for people, that’s when they change their minds.”
And there’s now a strong champion for LGBTQ+ rights in the Florida Senate. The state elected its first senator from the LGBTQ+ community, gay man Shevrin Jones, in November as well. He’s voiced strong support for Rayner’s bill.
“This is not only important to LGBTQ Floridians, but this is important to Florida’s families. It doesn’t matter how your family looks, and it’s not the state’s job to play referee of what it believes a family should look like,” Jones said.
“Last year across the country we saw a wave of LGBTQ candidates who won elections, which is a sign that the people are growing, and I think they desire to stand on the right side of history. Florida should follow suit. This ban in Florida is outdated, hateful, and quite honestly, hurtful to families.”
Rayner feels optimistic the legislation has a chance at passage this year, and that both Republicans and Democrats will offer support.
“I know there are folks who believe who you marry is your own decision, and there are Republicans who have folks in the LGBTQ community in their families and as their close friends,” she said.