A circuit court judge in the Florida Keys recently ruled that the Florida Constitution’s ban on marriages between same-sex partners violates the US Constitution’s equal protection clause, the Miami Herald reported. The ruling, which the state has appealed, could have a wide-reaching impact for many Florida same-sex couples, beyond simply those seeking to marry.
In a ruling issued July 17, Plantation Key-based Judge Luis Garcia decided that, when the Monroe County Clerk’s denied a marriage license to Key West bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, the state violated the mens’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The fact that Florida’s same-sex marriage was the result of a ballot initiative approved by a majority of voters did not matter. According to the court’s decision, it “is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority.”
The ruling applies only to couples seeking to marry in Monroe County. The state Attorney General’s office immediately filed a notice of appeal, which stayed enforcement of Judge Garcia’s ruling. This means that all potential same-sex marriages in the county remain on hold until the court of appeals resolves the state’s appeal, although Huntsman and Jones have asked Judge Garcia to lift the stay and allow the Monroe County Clerk to begin issuing licenses right away.
A similar action remains pending in circuit court in Miami-Dade County, where six same-sex couples challenged the ban and sought to be allowed to marry, according to a Miami Herald report. In that case, the state defended the marriage ban by arguing that the voters had the right to amend the state constitution when, in 2008, 62 percent approved the ban, and that the court should not disturb that amendment.
Attorney General Pam Bondi stated that finality on the issue of same-sex marriage will require a decision from the US Supreme Court. According to federal Attorney General Eric Holder, the US Department of Justice will weigh in on behalf of same-sex couples in a federal court dispute arising from Utah. The DOJ will ask the US Supreme Court prohibit all same-sex marriage bans in all states.
Couples seeking to marry in Monroe County and elsewhere in Florida are not the only ones potentially impacted if the courts overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban. In Tampa, a lesbian couple who married while living in Massachusetts were denied a divorce by a Hillsborough County court. The judge in that case ruled that, because Florida law expressly banned recognizing a same-sex marriage, Florida courts lacked the authority to issue an order dissolving such a union.
As the movement toward recognition of the unions of same-sex couples proceeds, these changes in the law potentially present a variety of issues for these couples seeking to marry, and those already married who are seeking a divorce. For careful advice based upon up-to-date knowledge of the law, contact the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A..
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Appeals Court Reverses Lower Court Ruling Nullifying Lesbian Adoption, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 29, 2014
Florida Court Denies Lesbian Couple’s Request to Divorce, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 15, 2014