A federal judge on Thursday declared Florida's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, joining judges across the country who have sided with gay couples wishing to tie the knot.
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled that the ban violates the 14th Amendment's guarantees of equal protection and due process. Hinkle issued a stay delaying the effect of his order, meaning no marriage licenses will be immediately issued for gay couples. That also means gay couples legally married in other states will not immediately have their marriages recognized in Florida.
Hinkle, an appointee of President 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 his 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 voters added the ban to the state constitution in 2008.
Gay rights have long been a contentious issue in Florida, a politically complex swing state where the northern counties tend to lean Republican like their Deep South neighbors and parts of South Florida are reliably Democratic. In the 1970s, singer and orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant lobbied to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays, though the protections were later reinstated.
Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi, a Republican, has appealed previous rulings striking down the ban on gay marriage, which were issued this year in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties. Hinkle's ruling allows time for appeals in the federal case. Bondi wants the Florida cases to remain on hold pending a definitive national ruling on gay marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The U.S. Supreme Court, they need to decide this case, they are going to decide this case, hopefully sooner than later so we will have finality,” Bondi said this week. “There are good people on both sides of this issue, and we need to have finality for everyone involved.”
Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions against state same-sex marriage restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year.