A Florida judge today determined that same-sex couples can begin marrying in the state's most populous county immediately, one day before marriage equality was set to arrive statewide.
Judge Sarah Zabel announced Monday morning that she is lifting the stay in a case out of Miami-Dade County that she had initially ruled on in July, reports Miami news station WPLG. On July 25, Zabel found that Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution, but she placed a stay on the ruling pending an anticipated appeal from the state.
On Monday morning, Zabel uttered four words that elicited cheers from the Miami courtroom where she presides. "I'm lifting the stay," Zabel said, according to WPLG.
Watch Associated Press video below that captures the moment when Zabel announced her decision, and the plaintiffs learned they'd be able to marry thier same-sex partners that very day:
The website for Miami-Dade's Clerk of the Courts already includes online pre-applications for marriage licenses for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
The judge's decision to lift the stay in the state-level case filed by six same-sex couples comes less than 24 hours before a similar stay on a federal marriage equality case is set to expire, bringing marriage equality to the entire Sunshine State at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Just hours after lifting the stay, Judge Zabel officiated the marriage ceremonies of two of the same-sex couples whose lawsuit cleared the way for marriage equality in Miami-Dade County. The first same-sex couple legally married in Florida was Karla Arguello and Cathy Pareto, according to WPLG reporter Hatzel Vela. Fellow plaintiffs Jeffrey and Todd Delmay were married shortly thereafter, becoming the state's second legally wed same-sex couple.
Although Florida's Republican attorney general, Pam Bondi, has fought at every opportunity to keep Florida's ban on same-sex marriage in force, her efforts have been repeatedly rejected -- most recently by the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to extend the stay in Florida's federal marriage equality case. Although Bondi's appeals in state and federal court are ongoing, the denials of stay requests may indicate that courts are likely to rule in favor of the freedom to marry.
The Human Rights Campaign notes that with Florida becoming the 36th U.S. state -- plus the District of Columbia -- with legal marriage equality, a staggering 70 percent of Americans live in a state that embraces the freedom to marry.
"The overwhelming tidal wave of court rulings over the last year has put America on the cusp of nationwide marriage equality," said HRC's legal director Sarah Warbelow in a statement Monday. "Committed and loving gay and lesbian couples in Florida are just as deserving of marriage rights as anyone else. It's time government officials such as Attorney General Bondi and individuals like her across the country stop fighting to uphold discrimination. As long as shameful marriage bans stay in place, real people and real families are harmed."