LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. — After a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas suggesting the landmark case making same-sex marriage legal should be reconsidered, many couples including one right here in Southwest Florida, are questioning if their rights are next.
Katona and Cheryl Zito were legally married in New York on November 11, 2011.
“It was cool,” Cheryl Zito said. “There was a whole bunch of gay people there getting their licenses. It was the first six months that it was legal in New York, so a lot of people were getting married.”
The couple got married in 2011 in New York, years before same-sex marriage was legally recognized in June of 2015, with the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges.
“It was pretty amazing to be validated,” Katona Zito said. “We just wanted to live our lives and be able to have the same rights as everyone else.”
But the Lehigh Acres couple is now worried that their rights could also be reversed, following the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
“We’re definitely concerned,” Katona Zito said. “If they can overturn something that’s been a law for over 50 years, well, I definitely believe the next thing that they’ll be coming after is gay marriage. And we’ve already started preparing for it.”
The couple, even before the final opinion was made last week, already made the choice to change their wills to make each other their power of attorney.
“She actually went today,” Katona said. “I’ve already gotten my will - my power of attorney set where we have advanced directives so that we can protect ourselves as much as possible.”
The couple now feels protection is vital.
“It feels like we are going backward,” Cheryl said.
If like Roe v. Wade, the court returns the decision to the states, Florida already has a law banning gay marriage, which says, in part:
“For the purposes of interpreting any state statute or rule, the term ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
This law is something the LGBTQ+ lobbying group Equality Florida has pushed every year to eliminate.
Jon Harris Maurer, Public Policy Director for Equality Florida, said the law right now is unenforceable.
“That law is outdated. It is unconstitutional and yet it still remains on our statute books because the legislature has to take the affirmative step of removing it,” Maurer said. “For years now, the legislature has failed to repeal the bill.”
That’s where, for the Zitos, the fear is very real.
“It’s scary. We were so happy at that moment,” Katona Zito said in tears. “It hurts a lot. Who gives them the right to say our marriage doesn’t matter? How would they feel if they woke up one day and their marriage isn’t legal anymore?”
Fox 4 emailed two Florida-based organizations that are against same-sex marriage for any comment on the concerns of the couple. We also reached out for a comment from the Governor's office, but have yet to hear back.