In a 16-page ruling, Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen strikes down Florida’s prohibition on marriage equality on the basis that it violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“To discriminate based on sexual orientation, to deny families equality, to stigmatize children and spouses, to hold some couples less worthy of legal benefits then others based on their sexual orientation, to deny individuals tax credits, marital property rights,
the ability to dissolve their unions from other jurisdictions is against all that this country holds dear, as it denies equal citizenship,” Cohen writes. “Marriage is a well-recognized fundamental right, all people should be entitled to enjoy its benefits.”
A judge appointed by Republican former Gov. Jeb Bush, Cohen draws heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act in his reasoning for striking down Florida’s marriage ban.
“Further, so long as opposite-sex couples can marry without government analysis of their right to procreate, then so can same-sex couples marry without an analysis of their right to procreate,” Cohen writes.
Cohen issues a stay pending appeal as part of his ruling, so no same-sex weddings will take place at this time as a result of the decision. Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed earlier judicial decisions in favor of marriage equality in Florida, and is also expected to appeal this ruling.
Under Florida state law, the ruling would have been automatically stayed anyway in the likely event that the state appealed the decision to a higher court.
The decision in Broward County, which includes Ft. Lauderdale, comes on the heels of a ruling last month by a judge in Monroe County who ruled in favor of marriage equality in the Florida Keys, and subsequent ruling by a judge in Miami-Dade County who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage for that jurisdiction. That makes for a total of three rulings in favor of marriage equality that are now pending before Florida district courts of appeals.
Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, said each win within the state “brings us closer than we’ve ever been” to marriage equality.
“We look forward to the day when all loving, committed couples and their families enjoy the same protections, opportunities and responsibilities of marriage under the law,” Smith said. “Every passing day inflicts real hardships on families who are denied the legal protection and dignity that marriage equality provides.”
But the Broward County lawsuit, Brassner v. Lade, is different from other cases in the state because it was filed not by a same-sex couple seeking the right to marry, but a lesbian seeking the right to divorce.
Heather Brassner, who entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2002, now wants to have that union dissolved in Broward County where she currently resides. Because Florida prohibits recognition of same-sex marriage, the judge concluded he’s not in position to grant the divorce until he decided the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Nancy Brodzki, legal counsel for Heather Brassner, said the decision is “wonderful, wonderful” and well supported by all the earlier court decisions in favor of marriage equality.
“This is a thrilling day for everybody in Broward County,” she said.