Florida Gay Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional
Sunday, February 28, 2021
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Hinkle, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, compared bans on gay marriage to the long-abandoned prohibitions on interracial marriage and predicted both would be viewed by history the same way.  "When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination," Hinkle wrote in a 33-page ruling. "To paraphrase a civil rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was struck down, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has appealed the previous rulings striking down the ban in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties. Hinkle's ruling allows time for appeals in the federal case. Bondi has said the Florida cases should await a final ruling on gay marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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A number of similar rulings around the country have been put on hold while appeals are pursued.  The latest Florida ruling came in a pair of lawsuits that brought by gay couples seeking to marry in Florida and others who want to force Florida to recognize gay marriages performed legally in other states. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which represented some of the gay couples, said the tide of rulings makes legal same-sex marriage in Florida appear inevitable. "We're very pleased to see the ban held unconstitutional in such unequivocal terms so that all Florida families will soon finally have the same protections," said ACLU staff attorney Daniel Tilley.

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The Human Rights Campaign notes that Hinkle's ruling marks the 20th consecutive decision from a federal court in favor of marriage equality since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in June 2013 striking down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor v. U.S. "Florida's committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve the right to legally marry in the state they call home," said HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow in a press release. "Judge Hinkle's ruling today is consistent with 20 other consecutive federal court decisions over the last year that have said state bans on marriage equality violate the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution. These discriminatory bans only serve to harm LGBT families, and they should be erased from our nation's laws once and for all."  Nationwide, there are 79 cases seeking the freedom to marry in 32 states and territories, according to advocacy group Freedom to Marry. Since last year's decision in Windsor, 38 state and federal courts have ruled in favor of same-sex couples hoping to marry, while just one — a state judge in Tennessee — upheld the constitutionality of a state ban on same-sex marriage.

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"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."

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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.

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