Florida judge strikes down voter-approved same-sex marriage ban

Thu Jul 17, 2014 8:45pm EDT
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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A county judge in Florida struck down on Thursday the state's gay marriage ban, the latest in a string of court rulings across the United States voiding state laws that restrict the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, whose jurisdiction includes the Florida Keys, ordered the Monroe County Clerk of Court to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples next Tuesday.

While the ruling applies to only one Florida county, it marks the first decision in several court cases across the state challenging a same-sex marriage ban approved by Florida voters in 2008.

Garcia ruled in favor of two male bartenders living in Key West seeking the right to marry, saying Florida's gay marriage ban violated their rights to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, both 43, told Reuters they cried after lawyers texted them with the news.

"It is a life-changing event," said Huntsman, who had been on the phone seeking health insurance that he may now qualify for through marriage. "We're taking it one minute at a time."

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, is appealing the decision, a spokeswoman said, stating that the final decision on the issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republican Governor Rick Scott adopted a more neutral position. "Governor Scott supports traditional marriage, consistent with the amendment approved by Florida voters in 2008, but does not believe that anyone should be discriminated against for any reason," John Tupps, the governor's press secretary, told Reuters.

Under Florida law, a stay automatically goes into effect when a public official appeals an adverse decision, according to Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the attorneys representing gay couples in a Miami lawsuit.   Continued...

Heidi Schfran (L) and Marlene Marante of Wilton Manors hold signs at a rally by gay rights activists following the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling, striking down as unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in Fort Lauderdale, Florida June 26, 2013.   REUTERS/Joe Skipper