By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
A circuit judge in Monroe County ruled Florida’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.
The ruling by Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia applies only to Monroe County, which primarily consists of the Keys, and will certainly be appealed. The lawsuit contended that the same-sex marriage ban approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2008 violated the federal 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. The judge said licenses could not be issued until Tuesday at the earliest.
Attorney General Pam Bondi and ban supporters argued that the referendum vote should be respected and that Florida has sole authority to define marriage in the state. The Florida amendment defined marriage solely as a union between one man and one woman.
Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, although those rulings remain in various stages of appeal. Many legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately have to decide the question for all states.
There are also lawsuits against Florida’s gay marriage ban pending in Miami-Dade County and Tallahassee. The Tallahassee lawsuit seeks to overturn a part of the gay marriage ban that does not allow the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Gay marriage advocates have said the ruling is the first step towards the end of the state’s ban.
According to attorney Daniel Tilley, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, “This is the beginning of the end of the marriage ban and of marriage discrimination in Florida.”
According to The Miami Herald, the Monroe County ruling will have an effect quite quickly in the Keys:
The judge ordered the Monroe County Clerk’s Office to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples Tuesday morning.
“The court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but 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,” Garcia wrote in his opinion, released about 1 p.m. Thursday.
The judge gave the clerk’s office several days to prepare “in consideration of… anticipated rise in activity.”
…The decision applies only to Monroe County, because it was filed in front of a state judge who has jurisdiction only in the county where he sits. A judge in Miami-Dade County has yet to rule in a similar case.
Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license, saying Florida’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. They told The Miami Herald Thursday that they’re “ecstatic.”
Gay marriage opponents, represented by a lawyer from the Liberty Counsel, have argued the state is not doing enough to defend Florida’ ban on gay marriage.
In a press release several days ago, the Liberty Counsel said:
Liberty Counsel is carrying the weight of defending the Florida Marriage Amendment. “Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is giving only window dressing to the Florida Marriage Amendment,” said Mat Staver.
Bondi sent one of her staff attorneys to argue the case against the constitutional amendment, and her office filed a short, 14-page brief only a week before the court date.
“If Attorney General Pam Bondi does not want to present a vigorous defense, she owes it to the voters of Florida to step down and allow someone else to represent the interests of the State,” Staver said.
“I call on Governor Rick Scott to get off the sidelines and appoint an independent counsel who can adequately represent the people of Florida,” Staver urged.
Quickly after the ruling, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced the state is filing an appeal to the decision.