July 17 (Bloomberg) -- Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was thrown out by a state judge in a decision limited to the county that includes Key West.
Judge Luis M. Garcia said today that the law violates the U.S. Constitution. He barred the clerk of the Monroe County Circuit Court from enforcing the ban and compelled her to issue licenses to gay couples, subject only to the same restrictions applied to opposite-sex couples, starting July 22.
Voters added the ban to the state’s constitution in 2008. In his ruling, Garcia said marriage was a fundamental right and the prohibition couldn’t be justified by tradition or the argument that it encourages procreation by opposite-sex couples.
“This court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage,” he wrote. “But it is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular, the rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority.”
Garcia’s decision comes as the battle lines for same-sex marriage shift from trial courts to state and federal appellate courts. A U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver last month upheld a Salt Lake City judge’s decision to strike down Utah’s ban.
That same tribunal is reviewing a decision to invalidate Oklahoma’s gay-marriage prohibition. Appeals are also before courts in Chicago, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Richmond, Virginia.
One or more of those cases could be accepted for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi said she’s appealing today’s ruling. The state had intervened in the case to defend its law.
“With many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court,” Bondi said in a statement. A separate challenge to the Florida law is pending before a state court judge in Miami-Dade county.
Gay marriage has been made legal by popular vote, legislation or court ruling in 19 states, plus the District of Columbia. Judge’s decisions to invalidate bans in 10 more states are on hold pending appeal.
“The issue people are asking about now is if we get a license issued in Monroe County and we take it up to Orlando, will they honor it,” Ron Saunders, an attorney for the clerk, said by phone today. “I’d say no. The law is very clear and because of the language there’s no question of the interpretation. It says same-sex marriages will not be recognized.”
Saunders said he didn’t argue the constitutional merits of the Florida law.
“That’s not our job,” he said. “We just follow the law.”
Bernadette Restivo, the attorney for plaintiff couple Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, said she was “ecstatic” about the decision.
“It’s clear from the last couple of sentences of the ruling that the judge expects an influx into Monroe County on Tuesday,” she said by phone as she drove to Key West. “That’s why he gave the clerk time to prepare.”
The case is Huntsman v. Heavilin, 2014-CA-305-K, 16th Judicial Circuit Court, Monroe County, Florida (Tavernier).
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org Andrew Dunn