Florida's bans on same-sex marriage and on recognizing out-of-state civil unions between members of the same sex violate the U.S. Constitution, a judge ruled Monday.
The ruling, by Broward County Circuit Judge Dale C. Cohen, follows two similar rulings by judges in Florida's Monroe and Miami-Dade counties last month.
Cohen's order voiding the bans doesn't go into effect right away, however. The order is stayed "pending the outcome of expected appeals" on last month's two rulings.
The Broward County case involves a woman seeking to have her civil union dissolved.
According to the ruling, plaintiff Heather Brassner entered into a union with Megan E. Lade in Vermont in 2002. The two became estranged, and now Brassner would like to marry her current partner, but she can't while still in a union with Lade. Brassner looked for Lade but could not find her even with the help of a private investigator, so she turned to the courts in Florida -- where she resides -- to dissolve the union, the ruling said.
Florida courts can't perform the dissolution, however, because the state doesn't recognize her union.
"By failing to recognize [Brassner's] out-of-state union, her constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the law is violated," the ruling said.
"Florida's refusal to recognize [Brassner's] union is tantamount to banning her from marrying someone of the same sex," it said. "Accordingly, Florida's ban on same-sex marriage and refusal to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages violates [Brassner's] fundamental right to marry under the due process clause and discriminates based on sexual orientation, which violates the equal protection clause."
Brassner's attorney, Nancy K. Brodzki, said the ruling was nearly the best possible outcome. "We were very, pleased," she told the Los Angeles Times, even though the stay means Brassner's and Lade's union is not yet dissolved.
Daniel Tilley, the ACLU of Florida's staff attorney for LGBT rights, praised the ruling as well. He noted that the benefits of marriage and other legal unions include "access to the mechanism of dissolution to sort out any issues that arise."
"No one goes into a marriage wanting it to end, but the fact is that some marriages — including some heterosexual marriages — do end," he told The Times. "The protection that comes with dissolution that so many heterosexual couples rely on are just as important to same-sex couples."