FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - After meeting in Paris, the two men had a whirlwind romance that led to marriage -- and a lawsuit against Florida Atlantic University.
Paul Rubio and Gildas Dousset, who were legally wed in Massachusetts in July 2013, turned to the courts after the university rejected Dousset's application for in-state tuition based on his marriage to Rubio. If the marriage were legally recognized in Florida, those rates would apply, according to the couple's lawyer, George Castrataro.
The university said it is obligated to follow Florida law, which has prohibited same-sex marriage, or the recognition of such marriages performed in other states, since 1997. Voters enshrined the ban in the state constitution in 2008. But since the partial repeal last year of the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriage on the federal level, laws such as these have been falling across the country.
The couple's suit, filed May 14 with Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, aims to make Florida the next to recognize such marriages.
Rubio, a travel journalist from Fort Lauderdale, met Dousset, a Frenchman, in Paris during a four-month stay in 2008 to write a guidebook. One night, a friend dragged Rubio to a bar on a side street off the Champs-Elysees. Elsewhere, a friend of Dousset's dragged him to the same lounge. And, in the sort of romantic cliche that befits the City of Love, Rubio and Dousset saw each other across the room, went on their first date two days later, and "fell madly in love," Rubio said.
But eventually, Rubio had to go home. The two visited each other every few weeks, often meeting up in New York City. Finally, in 2009, a student visa came through and Dousset moved across the ocean and started taking classes at Broward College.
"That was the only way we could be together, was for him to come here and be a student," Rubio said.
The student visa kept Dousset in the States, but because the federal government at the time did not recognize same-sex marriages, Dousset couldn't get permanent residency. Just a month after the Defense of Marriage Act was partially repealed in June 2013, the two got married in Massachusetts, and Dousset became a permanent resident soon after.
Dousset transferred to FAU and, after a semester of out-of-state tuition, filed a petition for residency status based on his marriage to Rubio. This petition was rejected, as were subsequent appeals, all based on the 1997 state law and Article I, Section 27 of the state constitution, which reads, "Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."
According to a written statement from Associate Vice President Joshua Glanzer, "Florida Atlantic University, and every Florida state college and university, is bound to follow all the laws of the State of Florida unless they are deemed unconstitutional by the court. It is our understanding that this law is being challenged in courts throughout the state, and there is no allegation that FAU misapplied the law or did anything other than what is specifically required by the laws of the state."
At first, the university's registrar wouldn't even accept Dousset's application to transfer to residency status. "I told them I intended to get residency through marriage," Dousset said. Then the registrar began asking questions about Dousset's wife.
"I told her, 'It's not a wife, it's a husband,'" Dousset recalled. "And she said, 'Excuse me?'"
Confused and angered, Dousset went home to Rubio, who demanded FAU take the application. They did, and then they rejected it. The couple appealed the decision as far as it could go in the university. That's when it went to court.
"Generally, you don't get to have an appeal until you have a trial, but in Florida, and in most states, there are administrative procedures that allow some state entities to make quasi-judicial decisions that have the same effect as a trial order," Castrataro said.
Dousset's case has gone straight to the court of appeal, leaping ahead of similar cases that, although filed before Dousset's, are now bogged down at trial.
Furthest along of these is a Tampa case, in which a trial judge released an opinion on May 9 stating the court could not grant a lesbian couple a divorce because the state didn't recognize the marriage in the first place. That case will be appealed, while two other state lawsuits are trying to force the state to allow same-sex marriages to be performed in Florida.
Meanwhile, two federal lawsuits are treading similar territory to Dousset's, with one seeking to force the state to recognize a same-sex marriage from Canada and the other to force Florida to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. As far as Castrataro knows, the Dousset case is the only one of its kind at the state level, and he expects to win.
"There's been a change in Florida over the last 10 years," he said. "When the amendment passed, people were slightly against things like marriage. Now, people say being gay or lesbian isn't something you choose, it's something you're born with, and hopefully that change will carry over to the court."
Castrataro and his law partner, Lisa Conrey, see three possible outcomes: They lose, or the courts force the state to recognize same-sex marriages from out of state just for the purposes of in-state tuition, or the courts force the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state, period.
As long as it's one of the last two options, Dousset still plans to head to FAU.
"I really liked the school, and the teachers," he said. "I have a French mindset. I don't stand for discrimination. I was raised under the principle that all people are equal and that we all have the same rights."
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