C.S Gillbert

An elegant party hosted by Jack and Terri Spottswood last Thursday honored Equality Florida’s major local donors and host committee members – and was a special tribute to Key West’s 2014 Service and Leadership award winner, Stephen Marrone. The event kicked off the countdown to the annual Gala on March 29, 6 till 8:30 p.m. at the Gardens Hotel.

Equality Florida, founded in 1997, is the state’s largest organization dedicated to obtaining equal civil rights for Florida’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. On Jan. 21 the group, together with six same-sex couples, filed a Right to Marry case in Miami-Dade challenging Florida’s discriminatory ban on same sex marriage.

On Friday, Valentine’s Day, the organization hosted a Get Engaged Summit at La Te Da at which 15 couples or individuals of varied orientations testified before video cameras as to what marriage means to them and/or what marriage equality would mean. They and another dozen-plus staffers, volunteers and guests heard updates from EqFl Deputy Director Stratton Pollitzer and Elizabeth Schwartz, P.A. of Miami, “two of the most highly sought after and recognized authorities on marriage equality in Florida” said staffer Row Iliescu.

Pollitzer, a former Key West resident, is a familiar face in town, having guided local host committees since the very beginning. The key to defeating bigotry and discrimination is familiarity, he said. “Above 90 percent of Americans say they have someone in their lives — a parent, a child, a relative, a friend, a neighbor, a teammate — who is gay.” Marriage is important, he said. He spoke of his own 1999 “symbolic wedding” in South Carolina to his partner, Christopher, after they had been together for five years, and how he saw the light of understanding and acceptance appear in formerly doubtful relatives’ eyes.

“Thank you for your courage,” he said to those who testified before the cameras. “It’s the most powerful weapon we have.”

Schwartz, a nationally-known specialist in the field of GLBT civil rights and lead attorney in the marriage suit, told the crowd that “since the Windsor case took down the federal ban, statewide bans cannot stand” and in the Miami-Dade case, “ I’m optimistic that we’re going to prevail.” About 500 state benefits come with marriage, she said, including inheritance, hospital visits and medical decisions. “Divorce is also regulated by the state – 17 states have same-sex marriage, and if you get married in any of those places and want to split up, you have to move back to that state for a year and establish residence.” She called it being “wed-locked.”

Denying people the right to marry “is very clearly unconstitutional,” she said and  concluded that she expects a decision in the local case within two years.

“Key West has always provided Equality Florida with enormous support and its annual fundraiser is one of the largest in the state,” said Iliescu, who with Evie Evers Kling, local host committee chair, served as coordinator of both the party and the summit. “The Gala is a free event and all are welcome and encouraged to attend,” she said. For more information go to eqfl.org.

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