Gays wed in other states, south Florida couples find way to make dreams come true

Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Copyright © 2011 Sun-Sentinel

They have been friends for 53 years, partners for 36. And now they are finally married.

In July, Ruth Berman, 77, and Connie Kurtz, 75, traveled from their home in West Palm Beach to New York City to exchange vows in a synagogue with about 100 close friends, supporters and family members.

”We waited for this opportunity for a very long time,” said Kurtz, a grandmother, who met Berman while living in New York City. “We can’t keep waiting for Florida to come of age.”

Because of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Florida couples are tying the knot in states where it’s legal.

While some within the gay community say it’s a waste of time because the state doesn’t recognize their unions, others say it’s an act of love as well as a political statement. They’re hoping their numbers and stories push more states, including Florida, to eliminate their bans on same sex marriages.

And, if the Federal Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, their marriages will allow them rights granted under federal law, which can affect Social Security and other benefits.

According to recent census estimates, of the 65,601 same-sex couples who live together in Florida, 32 percent identify themselves as married. Those numbers include civil unions, experts say.

Still, the number of married same-sex households is expected to grow now that New York has become the sixth state to legalize gay marriage.

”New York made a big difference,” said Tony Plakas, executive director of Compass, a gay and lesbian community center in Lake Worth. “Palm Beach County is almost like New York’s sixth borough.”

Plakas and his partner, Jamie Foreman, got married in a low-key, intimate ceremony in Cambridge, Mass., in July.

”It wasn’t an act of activism,” Plakas said. “It was an opportunity to make a commitment.”

He said simple things have changed for the better, such as being able to introduce his loved one as his spouse.

”I could say this is my partner 14 times and they may still think I’m talking about a business partner,” Plakas said. “There’s a difference when you say this is my spouse.”

But there are hurdles in Florida that same-sex married couples continue to battle.

They say that when nothing is in writing, it’s still up to a hospital’s discretion whether to allow a same-sex married partner to make decisions for his spouse in life-and-death situations. And same-sex married couples are not granted some immigration privileges that straight partners are allowed.

Lauren Odman, 32, of Dania Beach, said Florida’s ban on gay marriage has her considering living elsewhere with her partner, who is from Europe. She said they can be more open outside the United States.

But about a dozen cities and counties, including Broward and Palm Beach counties, are offering more benefits to same-sex couples registered as domestic partners. And a new statewide domestic partnership law, which would give some of the same benefits and responsibilities associated with marriage to same-sex couples, has been introduced by state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

These new laws are needed, said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida.

”The reality is that same-sex couples are being legally married in states like New York and Massachusetts and then they return home to Florida, to a state that gives them no recognition under Florida law and the federal government isn’t recognizing these legal units,” Poliitzer said. “That’s very out of step with public opinion on the issue.”

Gallup polls released earlier this year show 53 percent of Americans think same-sex marriage should be recognized as legally valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages. or 954-572-2078