Four Florida judges have declared unconstitutional the state ban on gay marriage.
Florida courts are falling in line with those of several other states in overturning same-sex marriage bans. Since June 2014, four different Florida state judges in separate lawsuits all came to the same conclusion: that the 2008 voter-approved state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage is invalid because it violates the U.S. Constitution.
Because Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has appealed all four decisions, no marriage licenses will be issued for now. According to the Associated Press, she also has asked for a freeze on other, similar state cases being appealed in Florida until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the issue. While no case on the issue is pending before the highest court of the land, court watchers expect the issue of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans to make its way to that docket soon.
A federal case dealing with Florida recognition of valid gay marriages from other states and Canada is pending in Tallahassee that could impact the legality of the ban statewide if the federal court decides the case in line with the state judges. One of the issues in the federal litigation is the entitlement of a widow who was in a gay marriage to Social Security benefits under her deceased wife's record.
Same-sex couples face a myriad of legal issues related to family law, insurance, inheritance, public and employment benefits, property ownership, debt liability, tax benefits, medical decision making and visitation, and more. For example:
- The Palm Beach County case involves a Pennsylvania man seeking to be the personal representative of his deceased husband's estate that includes Florida real estate. They were married in Delaware and Florida does not recognize the marriage.
- A pending case in Leon County asserts a lesbian's right to divorce her wife in Florida, the marriage having been validly performed in another state, according to SaintPetersBlog.
- The Broward County case concerns a Florida resident trying to end a Vermont civil union so that she can get married.
- The Monroe County case was filed by a gay couple denied a marriage license in Key West.
- In the Miami-Dade County case, six gay couples and an advocacy organization on their behalf brought suit against the county clerk for not issuing them marriage licenses.
- An appeal from an administrative decision is pending before the Fourth District Court of Appeal in which the issue is whether the husband of a Florida man should get in-state tuition at a Florida state university. The couple was married in Massachusetts.
Judge Luis Garcia eloquently reviews the legal issues involved in the Monroe County case in his July 17, 2014, opinion that finds the state same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional for two reasons:
- Because the ban violates the guaranty to equal protection in the U.S. Constitution, there being no rational basis for treating gay couples differently
- Because the ban violates the right to due process under law in the Constitution by interfering with the guaranteed fundamental right to marry, including the choice of a same-sex spouse
Judge Garcia concludes by observing that the Constitution protects individual rights, including "the rights of the unpopular and the rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority." He notes that he is "aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage," but that unless the Constitution is enforced it is "just a historical piece of paper."
Any gay or lesbian Floridian facing a family law issue related to marriage, divorce, child custody or support; or any other related issue, should speak with an experienced family lawyer who can provide sound advice and direction.
Keywords: Florida, judge, court, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, lawsuit, US Constitution, constitutional amendment, ban, appeal, divorce, unconstitutional, equal protection, due process