A state judge in Florida has found that the state's voter-approved ban on performing or recognizing same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, in the third such ruling regarding Florida's marriage laws in three weeks.
Monday's decision from Broward County Circuit Judge Dale Cohen in Brassner v. Lade determined that the Florida state constitution's ban on performing same-sex marriages in the state or recognizing those performed in other states violates the U.S. Constitution. The decision technically applies only to Broward County and was accompanied by a stay in anticipation of the state's likely appeal, reports Equality Florida. The statewide equality group notes that Judge Cohen was appointed by Republican then-governor Jeb Bush in 2006, making him the third GOP-appointed judge to rule against the state's marriage ban in the past month.
The case was filed by Heather Brassner, a woman who entered into a civil union with her same-sex partner in Vermont, then moved to Florida, and is now looking to dissolve that union. Because Florida law does not recognize Brassner's legal relationship to her ex-partner, Brassner has been unable to obtain the divorce she is seeking. Brassner's attorney told Equality Florida that the judge was wary of ruling on Brassner's request for a divorce without addressing the constitutionality of the state law that prohibits recognition of the relationship.
"Florida cannot define marriage or civil union in a way that denies its citizens the right to make the choice as to whom to marry," writes Cohen. "Not may it deny equal status and dignity to each citizen's decision." The judge determined that existing Florida marriage law violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, as it treats legal relationships between members of the same sex differently than those between members of the opposite sex.
The judge stayed his ruling, anticipating an appeal from Florida's Republican attorney general, Pam Bondi.
Bondi has already appealed the other two cases in which state judges have struck down the state's marriage ban in recent weeks. The first case, initially decided July 17 by Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia, is considered a likely candidate to be fast-tracked to the state Supreme Court. The second case, decided July 25 by 11th Circuit Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Zabel in Miami-Dade County, likewise determined that Florida law unconstitutionally deprives same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity and treats them as second-class citizens. All of the decisions handed down thus far have accompanied by stays, meaning same-sex couples cannot yet marry in Florida.
Nationwide, there are 77 cases seeking the freedom to marry, in all 32 states and territories that have yet to embrace marriage equality. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. Since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark rulings striking down the federal government's so-called Defense of Marriage Act, 29 consecutive state and federal courts have found in favor of the freedom to marry. None of those judges have found in favor of discriminatory laws that limit access to the institution of marriage to opposite-sex couples, notes Freedom to Marry.
Get up to speed on the implications of Monday's ruling, and how it differs from last month's state court decisions, in the clip below with the Orlando Sentinel's Rene Stutzman.