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LISTEN: Local Plaintiffs Speak On Marriage Equality In Florida

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Courtesy of Lindsay Myers & Sarah Humlie
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Sandra Averhart speaks with local plaintiffs whose lawsuit prompted the recognition of same-sex marriages in Florida. (12 Minute Version)

The historic legalization of same sex marriage in Florida is hitting home for Pensacola couple Sarah Humlie and Lindsay Myers. Although they married out of state in 2012, they were plaintiffs in the ACLU case to end Florida’s long-held ban. Sandra Averhart spoke with Humlie and Myers, who happens to be a colleague at WUWF.

Sandra Averhart (SA): Well, it's been a few days since the news that the stay would end, allowing marriage licenses in Florida to be issued for the first time Tuesday. What are your thoughts now, several days later, on this ruling?

Sarah Humlie (SH): I think it's finally sinking in. I feel really happy about it, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I feel like it's been a very long time coming and I get to finally sit back and be like, finally! Here it is!

SA: Same for you, Lindsay?

Lindsay Myers (LM): It's really emotional because we're seeing people that we know apply for marriage licenses, plan to get married, and that hits home in a way that the long legal process where you get long legal documents you don't really understand- that's not an emotional experience, but seeing people line up, seeing people have the counseling, seeing attorneys in Okaloosa County offer free services because the clerks there are not performing services, that's very emotional, to see the community stepping up and wanting to support these newly married, maybe long term partners, but newly married.

SA: Let's talk about your involvement in the case, the ACLU's case. You joined ten other couples as plaintiffs in the case. Why did you get involved in the first place?

LM: Well, we had reached to Sara Latshaw of the ACLU of Florida and told her that if they brought a case we would be interested in being plaintiffs, because we knew LGBT rights were a priority for htem and then when they did file the case, because I'm a state employee my spouse is entitled to health insurance benefits and other benefits and because my spouse is of the same sex as I am she wasn't receiving those benefits and she doesn't get health insurance through her employer so that is the very typical situation where you could be insured through your spouse but we were denied that. So we were paying for her to be privately insured and that is exactly the kind of case that illustrates the injustice of the ban that Florida voters approved  in 2008 and that is why it was overturned because that courts saw that that was an injustice and we wanted to be part of it and we also wanted to represent this part of the state in a suit where most of the plaintiffs were further south.

SA: Well, I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the whole process of undoing a constitutional amendment , two laws that were passed in 1977 and again in 1997, what were your expectations as to how long or how difficult this might be?

SH: I have to say, I'm ever the optimist on these kind of things and I feel like change should come a lot faster than it has. When we looked at getting involved you think it will be a quick process, you think well Iknow the legal system works fairly slowly but I always expect it should be right around the corner. It should be right around the corner. And I've been believing that it should be right around the corner for years, since probably like 2005, I've been believing any day now, any day now we're going to have equal rights for the whole country. And I keep being disappointed by that and I felt like this was a very proper use of our legal system. Our justice system is here to correct injustices that the majority can effect over a minority population.

And I feel like if you were to put that ban to voters today, in 2014, 2013, it probably would not have passed again. I really highly doubt that it would have passed. So to say that it is still the will of the people is really, I think it's very much people's opinion, maybe that's just my opinion. But I think it's difficult to say year after year after year when laws stay on the books from times where the thought process is very different than what it is today, it's hard to say that is still the will of the people, and that is exactly why the justice system is here and so, I feel like, us being a part of that was important.

SA: Were there one or two things in recent years that gave you hope, more hope, said to you that there's some momentum building here?

LM: Yeah, I think the point and counterpoint to that are, I remember so vividly the ban passing in 2008 and how hard that was. Seeing how devastated that made people, friends of mine, and I wasn't living here at the time, but what a blow that was to this movement. And that was, people will remember, that was when the California Prop 8 was passed the same ballot. And that was very disheartening. But I also remember when DOMA was struck down, that was an NPR driveway moment. I remember just crying in my car and you know things, like Sarah said, are just around the corner at that point. I would have expected by 2015 that there would be a nationwide ruling by the Supreme Court, and the DOMA ruling really brought that home, but we're still battling it out state by state and I'm just happy to say the state of Florida- we weren't the first, but we weren't the last.

SA: Well now let's talk about the benefit to you, specifically as it relates to the issue that's most important to you and drove you to get involved, and that's healthcare, access to more affordable healthcare than you were able to have, and better healthcare, and the significance of getting it at this time. Sarah, talk about maybe, your illness and what it means to have this on the horizon.

SH: Yeah, it's funny because this has really hit home recently for us. In December I was diagnosed with cancer, and I'm very young and like many young people I gambled and took a high premium and high deductible...

LM: High premium AND high deductible! That's true!  

SH: ... on the open market, thinking, I probably won't need to use this. This is just in case, you know, worst case scenario and then I was diagnosed with cancer which was very shocking for us and it put a huge financial burden on us because my insurance policy has lots of money out of pocket that we have to pay to meet those high deductibles and then the insurance finally covers all the rest of the care. So that was a really big deal for us and to see now that in February we'll be able to share a health insurance policy and pay less than half the premiums that I was paying just for myself, privately, for both of us to have better health insurance and better healthcare- that is huge for our family. It gives us a lot of peace of mind and especially now that this cancer is getting behind me, so I've had my treatment and we're able to move forward from it but it has changed our outlook. We'll never look at healthcare in quite the same way again.

LM: I've been a state employee for about a year and a half now and about a year ago Sarah started having some health problems that were difficult to figure out. And it was frustrating to her to keep going to a doctor because every time she went to a doctor she got a different answer and she had to pay a high out of pocket cost, she was paying high premiums, and she wouldn't learn anything. And she would continue to have health issues, I would continue to badger her to get them checked out and it was this ongoing battle of the wills and a lot of it had to do with money, because she felt like it was a waste of money. Then finally when the problems got so bad that we weren't even going to go through her network, we were going to pay out of pocket, to find a doctor that would diagnose her. And then to get such a devastating diagnosis of cancer, that was really hard because the cost of her private insurance is three times what my insurance would be for both of us. So I pay like $50 by myself- sorry everyone whose not a state employee!- for a family it's around $100. She was paying over $200 a month just for her to also have to pay over $10,000 out of pocket. When you look at the cost savings to us- that's over $200 a month and $10,000 in a year! We've been really very grateful. The community here has stepped up to help us and we're incredibly grateful to them for that. We're incredibly grateful. But I also think it's a recognition that it shouldn't have been that way in the first place.

SA: You all, we should say, chose to get married in a ceremony in Washington D.C. in December of 2012. What now does the legalization of same-sex marriage in Florida, what other benefits do you expect to have moving forward?

LM: We chose to get married just over two years ago and we knew that it wasn't going to be recognized in Florida, and that was even before DOMA had been overruled, so really we didn't know if we would get any benefit from it other than our commitment to one another, which I think, most married people will tell you is pretty important, other benefits, I feel like we're still sussing that out. We don't have a state income tax in Florida so obviously that is different. But even our recent experiences in the hospital every time they ask who is your next of kin and they're like, they won't put me as her spouse I think it's...

SH: Partner. It's like partner is the best word they have. They literally don't have the options in their computer menus to list a same-sex spouse so it's a little odd. You know you're being treated differently. It trickles down to things you don't always expect, like our car insurance rate- we can now be recognized as a married couple- and you get discounts on that! It's crazy.

SA: One final thing I wanted to ask is how you all feel about being leaders, on the front line of helping to get this ban on same-sex marriage overturned in Florida.

LM: That's a really emotional question. I don't see us as leaders, (crying) I see women like Edie Windsor as a leader...why don't you talk honey, while I compose myself.
 

SA: Take your time.

SH: I don't' know. I don't necessarily see us as leaders in it. I see us as people who had a personal vested interest in seeing this ban overturned. For me personally, I really believe in creating the world in which you want to live in and this was something that was extremely personal to me. I don't want to be treated differently in the eyes of my government and it was important for me to stand up and fight for the equality that I want to have and I want to live with. I don't see that that necessarily makes me a leader in it, I see that it was important to me and I want to see it changed.

SA: And it will be important to couples in the future.

SH: Yeah, it's so important to every person that this right and this opportunity and these benefits are now open to.

SA: Well, Lindsay Myers and Sarah Humlie, thank you.

LM: Thank you, Sandra.

SH: Thank you.