A 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.