Florida's Highest Court Rejects Attack on County's Domestic Partnership Law
(ATLANTA, April 9, 2001) — The Florida Supreme Court has put an end to right-wing efforts to block domestic partner benefits for unmarried public employees in Broward County, ensuring that more families can get vital health insurance and other workplace benefits, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Monday.
“With this order, the Court has improved security and peace of mind for many lesbian and gay families, and it has allowed Broward to be a better employer,” said Stephen R. Scarborough, staff attorney with Lambda’s Southern Regional Office, who assisted the county in the case.
Broward County adopted its Domestic Partner Act (DPA) in April 1999, creating a domestic partner registry and providing health and other benefits and protections for county employees’ partners and their children.
The conservative Northstar Legal Center, on behalf of a local resident named Lawrence Lowe, sued the county, claiming that the DPA conflicted with Florida’s state law by creating a “marriage-like” relationship, and that the county exceeded its authority by enacting the ordinance.
After the state Circuit Court rejected all of Lowe’s claims, he appealed, and last year, the Florida Court of Appeals for the Fourth District unanimously upheld that ruling. Lowe appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which, on Wednesday, rejected Lowe’s petition for review.
Scarborough noted, “All of Broward wins with this workers’ benefits program – the county gains by being able to better attract employees, and the community overall has the advantage of improved security and health coverage available to more of its families.”
While scores of states and cities now offer domestic partner benefits to their workers, Broward, which includes Fort Lauderdale, is among the first public employers in the country also to encourage its contractors, through a bidding preference, to offer family benefits to unmarried as well as married employees.
Lambda supported the county’s law from its beginning, working with other local organizations to secure passage of the DPA and later helping to defend the law from a legal challenge. Scarborough and former Staff Attorney Marvin C. Peguese co-authored Lambda’s amicus brief in Lowe v. Broward County on behalf of groups including Broward County Log Cabin Republican Club of Florida, Congregation Etz Chaim, the Dolphin Democratic Club, Equality Florida, Fort Lauderdale Business Network, Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Fort Lauderdale, Gays United Against Repression and Discrimination, Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Political Advocacy Coalition Political Action Committee, and the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church.
Lambda has helped defeat similar legal challenges from Northstar and other conservative groups opposing domestic partner benefits programs in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and parts of Arizona and California. Two cases are pending in San Francisco.
Lambda is the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. With 16 attorneys, Lambda has its headquarters in New York and regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Lambda will open an office in Dallas in 2002.
Contact: Stephen R. Scarborough 404-897-1880 x 23
Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 1-888-987-1984 (pager)