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How Florida Could Spread Marriage Equality to Neighboring States

How Florida Could Spread Marriage Equality to Neighboring States

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit's Wednesday decision that a temporary hold on Florida marriage equality can expire in early January could have major ramifications for neighboring states.

Although the decision doesn't immediately address litigation in Alabama and Georgia, both states have pending marriage cases that could eventually come before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The fact that the three judges assigned to the Florida case — all Democratic appointees — allowed the stay to expire in Florida indicates that they probably anticipate an eventual win for marriage equality in the state. The cases currently pending in Georgia and Alabama make constitutional arguments that are almost identical to those made in Florida case's.

In other words, if the 11th Circuit is confident that Florida's marriage ban will fall, it's likely that the court feels the same way about Georgia's and Alabama's. This week's ruling could also be a signal from the court that it's ready for the cases, which have moved at a slow crawl for months, to move ahead.

It's difficult to predict when any of those cases will come before the appellate court, since none has even had an initial judgment yet.

The Georgia lawsuit, Innis v. Aderhold, has faced numerous delays since four couples and Lambda Legal filed it in April of this year. State defendants have repeatedly requested deadline extensions for their briefs. Attorney General Sam Olens had filed a motion to dismiss the case, and a decision on that request is expected any day now. 

Last month voters reelected Olens to a second term. His Democratic rival, Greg Hecht, had endorsed marriage equality.

The situation in Alabama has also seen numerous delays and additional complications. There are currently three federal lawsuits in the state, and one suit in state court, dating back to 2013. All four cases have moved fairly slowly.

One Alabama case, Aaron-Bush v. Bentley, is in discovery until February, with dispositive motions due in April. The case won't likely be ready for trial until September. Another case, Hard v. Bentley, was filed in December of 2013 and just finished a round of briefings in late October. A third case, Searcy v. Strange, completed its briefings in November. A judge dismissed the state case in March. The decision has been under appeal since then.

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