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Broward, Palm Beach Courts Join 2 Others in Ruling State’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Gaymarriage.jpgA Palm Beach County probate case and a divorce action in Broward County might not necessarily seem to have much in common, but two rulings in those cases issued earlier this month share a common link, for each addressed the timely issue of same-sex marriage. Additionally, as the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald reported, each judge in those cases concluded that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage ban is unlawfully discriminatory. The recent rulings follow on the heels of two prior decisions, one each in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties, that also determined that the marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution.

The Broward case involved a lesbian couple who married in Vermont in 2002. Four years ago, the couple separated. One of the women recently filed a petition in Broward Circuit Court to dissolve their marriage. One essential legal question in the case regarded whether the Florida courts have the legal authority to dissolve an entity — a same-sex couple’s marriage — that Florida does not recognize as valid in the first place. In addressing that question, Judge Dale Cohen decided that the ban on same-sex marriages violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

In his 16-page order, Judge Cohen stated that to “discriminate based on sexual orientation … to hold some couples less worthy of legal benefits than others based on their sexual orientation,” Cohen wrote, “is against all that this country holds dear, as it denies equal citizenship. Marriage is a well recognized fundamental right; all people should be entitled to enjoy its benefits.” Last month, Judge Luis Garcia in Monroe County and Miami-Dade County Judge Sarah Zabel reached similar conclusions on the equal protection question.

A Palm Beach County judge also reached a similar conclusion in a probate matter. In that case, a man asked the court for recognition of his 2013 Delaware marriage so that he could serve as the personal representative of his late husband’s Florida probate estate. The deceased husband was the sole owner of a home in South Florida, thus necessitating the Florida probate proceeding. Since the men were Pennsylvania residents, the surviving husband could only serve as a personal representative if the court recognized the couple’s marriage, for Florida prohibits a non-resident from serving as a personal representative of an estate unless he or she is a close blood relatives of the deceased or the deceased’s legal spouse.

The court approved the request. Judge Diana Lewis concluded that the state’s marriage ban unnecessarily discriminated against the surviving spouse. No legitimate grounds existed for “denying [him] the privilege of acting as the fiduciary, based solely on the gender and sexual orientation of his now-deceased spouse,” Judge Lewis wrote in her opinion.

The two August rulings mark the first times that Florida courts have recognized out-of-state same-sex marriages as valid. Earlier this year, two lesbian women from Tampa went to court seeking an uncontested divorce. Judge Laurel Lee of the Hillsborough Circuit Court denied their petition, concluding that the courts lacked the power to dissolve their marriage because Florida did not recognize the marriage’s existence at all. That case is also on appeal.

Judge Cohen’s ruling regarding the marriage ban does not open the door to same-sex marriages in Broward County starting immediately, however. The Broward order, along with its two predecessors, is stayed until the cases complete the appeals process. The Florida Attorney General has already initiated appeals in the Miami-Dade and Monroe cases, but has not yet responded to the Broward case.

The Broward and Palm Beach cases differed slightly from the earlier matters in Monroe and Miami-Dade. The most recent cases involved spouses seeking judicial recognition of their out-of-state same-sex marriages, while, in the Monroe and Miami-Dade cases, those couples sought court orders requiring the issuance of marriage licenses.

With Florida’s laws regarding marriages (and, by extension, divorces) for same-sex couples changing nearly weekly, it is important to seek out knowledgeable counsel regarding your same-sex family law issues. For dependable and up-to-date advice regarding your family law matters, get in touch with the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A.. Our attorneys can give you the knowledge advice and representation you need for your family.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Keys Judge Rules Florida’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 21, 2014
Florida Court Denies Lesbian Couple’s Request to Divorce, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 15, 2014