MIAMI (Reuters) - Lawyers representing a half dozen same-sex couples suing Miami-Dade County for the right to marry told a court on Wednesday that Florida should follow the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a packed courtroom, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel heard oral arguments from attorneys representing the couples and gay rights groups seeking to strike down the state’s ban on gay marriage.
The hearing was so well attended that hundreds of spectators crowded into two overflow courtrooms to watch proceedings on a video feed, while others jammed corridors on the 6th floor of the courthouse near downtown Miami.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision last year striking down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, federal courts in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have all ruled in favor of same-sex couples’ right to marry.
While Florida law allowed sex couples to live together and raise children like other families "in the eyes of the law they are second class citizens," said Jeffrey Michael Cohen, an attorney for the couples with the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt.
"That is not a tolerable situation in today’s world," he added, arguing it violated the constitution's right to equal protection under the law.
The cities of Miami Beach and Orlando also expressed their support in court filings.
The attorney general’s office in early June argued against the suit, citing the 2008 election when voters defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
"Voters in 2008 made a policy decision which they had a right to do," Adam Tanenbaum, the chief deputy solicitor for the Florida Attorney General told Wednesday's hearing. "It's not for this court to second guess or make a determination as whether that was a good policy or bad policy," he added.
After the hearing, rival groups protested outside the courthouse separated by yellow police tape with opponents of gay marriage chanting "respect my vote" and supporters "love is louder."
State Republican leaders, including Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott, find themselves at odds with a growing chorus of Democrats and local officials.
Former Florida governor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist reversed his position on same-sex marriage and filed a brief last week in support of the plaintiffs, arguing that “our society has evolved and moved past the prejudices rooted in our past.”
Editing by David Adams, Jim Loney and Cynthia Osterman