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Florida judge rules ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional

Trials and ArbitrationLaws and LegislationJustice SystemMarriageSocial IssuesSame-Sex MarriageMonroe County (Florida)
A Florida judge said same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, but it only impacts Florida Keys
Judge rules same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional in one Florida county

A Florida judge overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage on Thursday, but the order only carries weight in one of the state's 67 counties, according to court records and the American Civil Liberties Union.

In a 14-page ruling, Judge Luis Garcia ordered Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavlin to issue a marriage license to a Key West couple who have been partners for more than 11 years, court filings show.

Garcia found that Florida's statewide ban, including the state's Defense of Marriage Act that passed in 2008, was discriminatory against same-sex couples and unconstitutional.

"The court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country's proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and the rights of the powerless, even at the expense of offending the majority," Garcia wrote.

Garcia ordered the Monroe County Clerk, which is the only county he has jurisdiction over, to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on July 22, his order read.

The state attorney general’s office filed an appeal on Thursday afternoon, court filings show.

“With many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court,” read a statement issued by the agency.

Gov. Rick Scott's office issued a statement late Thursday saying he still supports the state's marriage laws, but also echoed Garcia's stance against discrimination.

"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," the statement read.

Bernadette Restivo, an attorney for the plaintiffs Aaron Huntsman and Lee Jones, told the Los Angeles Times that the Key West couple was stunned when she informed them of Garcia's order.

“When I talked to them about the decision they were rather speechless," Restivo said.

Restivo said the resolution was a joint effort between her firm and Equality Florida, an activist group that is representing plaintiffs in a similar case in Miami-Dade County.

“This is a monumental step forward for Florida. Today’s historic ruling affirms what the majority of Florida residents already know to be true: All couples and their families deserve to be treated equally by their government," Florida Equality CEO Nadine Smith said in a statement.

Several states, including Indiana, Colorado and Utah, have seen lower court judges overturn bans on gay marriage in recent months, though many have been met with emergency stays on counties that immediately began issuing marriage licenses while an appeals process plays out.

Restivo told The Times that the state had not requested an emergency stay as of Thursday afternoon.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

3:55 p.m.: This post updated with a statement from Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

12:57 p.m.: This post updated with comments from an attorney who represented the couple that sued Monroe County, and information  from a notice of appeal filed by the state attorney general's office.

This post published at 10:36 a.m.

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Trials and ArbitrationLaws and LegislationJustice SystemMarriageSocial IssuesSame-Sex MarriageMonroe County (Florida)
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