For the third consecutive week, a Republican-appointed Circuit Judge in Florida has struck down the Sunshine State's ban on same-sex marriage, this time in Broward County.
Circuit Judge Dale Cohen today ruled against the state's 2008 constitutional amendment, stating that the denial of marriage equality to same-sex couples in Florida is unconstitutional. The judge's ruling applies to recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, as well as overturning Florida's ban on same-sex marriage — Broward County only.
The lawsuit was filed by Heather Brassner, who had entered into a civil union in Vermont and is seeking a divorce in Florida. The judge indicated that “He was not prepared to grant the divorce without addressing the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban — and the same-sex marriage recognition ban,” according to Nancy Brodzki, Brassner’s attorney. Brodzki then filed a motion for the judge to rule on Florida’s constitutional ban.
Judge Cohen issued an immediate stay on his ruling, meaning same-sex couples in Florida cannot marry just yet. Attorney General Bondi appealed the judges’ decision in the Miami-Dade and Monroe County cases, and is expected to appeal this decision as well.
"The Court is well aware of the emotionally charged environment behind this important issue,"Judge Cohen wrote in his ruling
. "However, politics and emotionality cannot rule, it is the laws of our government that create the free society that we enjoy. The judicial role is to rule by applying the law to the facts with neutrality and impartiality,” Cohen said in his ruling. “This Court believes that the issue here is not whether there is a right to same-sex marriage but instead whether there is a right to marriage from which same-sex couples can be excluded. The State of Florida cannot ignore the status and dignity afforded to opposite-sex couples, who were married out-of-state, and not extend those same rights, dignities and benefits to same-sex couples similarly."
“Every win in court brings us closer than we’ve ever been to the freedom to marry in Florida,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida in a press release. "We look forward to the day when all loving, committed couples and their families enjoy the same protections, opportunities and responsibilities of marriage under the law. Every passing day inflicts real hardships on families who are denied the legal protection and dignity that marriage equality provides."
In recent weeks, judges in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma have also struck down their state's ban on same-sex marriage. Like the previous reversals of the same-sex marriage ban in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties, today's Broward County decision would only affect couples in that county. However, attorneys in those earlier cases asked that the cases be consolidated and appealed directly to the Florida Supreme Court. Attorney General Pam Bondi has been actively fighting all these cases, but has not responded to that request to move the case to the Supreme Court.