August 21, 2014 at 4:08 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Fed’l judge rules against Florida ban on marriage equality
gavel, gay news, Washington Blade, justice

A federal judge in Florida has ruled against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage (Photo by Bigstock).

A federal judge in Florida ruled Thursday against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, making for the latest in a trend of victories in the courts for supporters of gay nuptials.

In a 33-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, a Clinton appointee, determined the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and plaintiffs who filed suit against the state are eligible for a preliminary injunction.

In his decision, Hinkle invokes the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state bans on interracial marriage, as well as the high court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Just last year the Court struck down a federal statute that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully entered into other jurisdictions,” Hinkle writes. “The Florida provisions that prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully entered elsewhere, like the federal provision, are unconstitutional. So is the Florida ban on entering same-sex marriages.”

However, the judge delays the effective date of his ruling until stays are lifted on federal appeals courts rulings against same-sex marriage bans in other states, and for an additional 90 days afterward to allow the state to seek a longer stay from him or a higher court.

The one exception to the stay: the state must issued a corrected death certificate for Carol Goldwasser to show at the time of her death she was married to Arlene Goldberg. Prior to Goldwasser’s death, the Florida couple married in New York in 2011.

The case, Brenner v. Scott, was filed by private attorneys in March 2014 on behalf of a same-sex couple who married in Canada, but now live in Tallahassee. That case was consolidated with Grimsley and Albu v. Scott, litigation filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in March 2014 on behalf of eight same-sex couples who wed out-of-state and SAVE, a Miami-based LGBT organization. Goldberg was added as a plaintiff to the case at a later date.

“The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same-sex marriage are struck down,” Hinkle writes. “Liberty, tolerance and respect are not zero-sum concepts. Those who enter into opposite-sex marriages are not harmed at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage. Tolerating views with which one disagrees is a hallmark of civilized society.”

The ruling in Florida marks the latest in series of court decisions against Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, which was approved by state voters in 2008. However, the latest ruling is the first time a federal judge has weighed in on the matter.

Four other judges at the state level have already determined that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. In July, Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia ruled against the law in the Florida Keys. Two weeks later, Judge Sarah Zabel of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court made the same determination for the law in Miami-Dade County. In August, Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen struck down the law in his jurisdiction. Finally, one day later, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis determined the law was unconstitutional in Ft. Lauderdale when attempting to resolve a estate of a Florida man who entered into a same-sex marriage. Each of these decision were stayed pending appeal.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who’s been defending Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage against other lawsuit, is expected to appeal the latest decision to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Whitney Ray, a Bondi spokesperson, told the Washington Blade the state is “reviewing the ruling.”

The latest decision adds to the tally of more than 30 victories for supporters of same-sex marriage in the courts in anticipation of a final, nationwide ruling on marriage equality from the U.S. Supreme Court by the middle of next year.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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