In a 10-page decision, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis determined that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage violates equal protection and due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The litigation is an attempt to resolve the estate Frank Bangor, a man who owned property in Florida. Last year, he married W. Jason Simpson in Delaware, where same-sex marriage is legal. Simpson was named personal representative of his late’s spouse estate, and has petitioned Florida to be recognized as such.
Lewis rules that Amendment 2 of Florida’s state constitution, which prohibits recognition of gay nuptials, must be considered because the couple was in a same-sex marriage, but determines Simpson is eligible to be his spouse’s personal representative because the amendment violates the U.S. Constitution.
“Indeed, Florida’s Marriage Laws unconstitutionally impair Mr. Bangor’s right to choose his Personal Representative, and Mr. Simpson’s right to so act, not because of who they are married to, but only because of who were married to, prior to Mr. Bangor’s death,” Lewis writes. “There is no justification in denying Mr. Simpson the privilege of acting as the fiduciary, based solely on the gender and sexual orientation of his now-deceased spouse.”
The court ruled in favor of marriage equality as a result of an “as-applied” challenge to Florida’s marriage law, so the decision will only apply to the plaintiff widow in the case and not all same-sex couples within the state.
Under state law, judge are elected to the bench by the Florida electorate. Lewis is seeking re-election to the bench this month.
The ruling marks the fourth court decision in favor of marriage equality in Florida over the course of a month. The first ruling came from a Monroe County judge who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the Florida Keys. Subsequent decisions from a judge in Miami-Dade County and Broward County followed. Each of these decisions were stayed pending appeal.
Notably, the ruling states that Bondi didn’t oppose the Simpson’s request to be recognized as his late spouse’s personal representative, even though she’s been defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in country. Her office didn’t immediately respond to a request to commet on why she took a different course of action in the case.
Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, said each ruling helps build momentum as higher courts determine whether the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.
“This is the 4th court in under three weeks to rule Florida’s marriage ban unconstitutional,” Smith said. “Clearly it is time for the ban to go. Everyday that justice is delayed inflicts needless hardship on our families. We shouldn’t have to go to court one at a time to secure equality under the law.”