Today, the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami denied a motion by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to freeze the marriage equality cases in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties from advancing through the court system.
"The Third District Court denied her the motion to stay briefings, which was seen as a delaying tactic to slow or stop the case for marriage equality from going forward in Florida," said Mark Ebenhoch, the media director for Aaron Huntsman and William "Lee" Jones, one of the South Florida couples challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
The judges also consolidated both the Pareto case in Miami-Dade and the Huntsman case in Monroe County, since both lawsuits similarly challenge the state's ban on same-sex marriage. This means the six couples and the Equality Florida Institute in the Pareto case will advance through the litigation process with Huntsman and Jones from Key West as a united force.
"I'm excited and relieved that cases have been merged," Huntsman said. "We're an unstoppable force now. The pain and suffering is soon going to come to an end in Florida for everyone facing this injustice. This is the best news because Equality Florida and we have been working together since the beginning, and now we're officially one team."
The Miami couples are also excited that they will go forward, hand in hand, with the Key West couple.
"I'm excited to have the Key West case merged with ours. I think this is excellent news!" said Vanessa Alenier. "I'm also happy the courts understand it's important to move forward with our case and not place a stay, pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision. We are hopeful the Third District Court of Appeal will allow our case to go straight to the Florida Supreme Court for final decision."
One of the merged case's attorneys, Bernadette Restivo, is relieved that Pam Bondi's motion has been denied. She believes that prolonging justice poses a serious threat to the security of the couples because they currently lack many of the rights and protections that heterosexual couples have. "We are very relieved that Bondi's motion to stay briefing was denied," Restivo said. "Every day this case is delayed is another day of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and other couples like them."
One of the rights that gay couples lack is the ability to tend to a sick spouse in the hospital. Since life goes on despite litigation, some people have died without ever having the dignity of having their marriage recognized by the state. This was the case for Arlene Goldburg and Carol Goldwasser, who were together for 47 years. Goldwasser died earlier this year without being legally recognized as married to Goldburg.
"To have a loving couple that saw society change, and the have the option to marry -- and then have one final, cruel insult of denying that they even existed as a married couple was simply unimaginable," said Todd Delmay, who with his partner Jeff are also part of the merged South Florida case. "I keep thinking about the world our son is growing up in -- and that all of this will be told to him from our perspective of having lived through it. I marvel at what he will think and how foreign this all will seem to him."
LGBT activists are excited about today's decision in Miami to deny Bondi's motion because it allows the South Florida couples to go through the litigation process and finally settle this topic of great public concern.
"I think the judges believe this is a very important case, and by allowing the couples to have their day in court, they are not allowing Bondi to obstruct due process," media director Ebenhoch said confidently. "Now we're all just waiting to see whether the Third District Court grants certification for the case to move directly to the Florida Supreme Court."
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If the Third District Court of Appeal passes the case to the Florida Supreme Court, it will follow yesterday's decision by the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland to send the matter directly to the highest court in Florida to settle whether the state's ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.
"Like the Second District Court of Appeal that certified a case yesterday, I think the Third District Court of Appeal will come to the same conclusion," Todd said. "Same-sex couples in Florida are harmed every day that their relationships and their families are not recognized. Attorney General's Bondi's attempt to stall justice was reprehensible and inconsiderate. I'm so glad that the Third District Court of Appeal ruled so quickly to tell her that our case will not be denied the hearing it deserves. Whether they hear it first or grant our motion to bypass to the FL SC, this is another incremental win."
If the Third District Court of Appeal sends the case to Tallahassee, the Florida Supreme Court can decide whether to take the case. If the court does take up the case, it could be further consolidated with the Shaw case from Central Florida, or separated, because the Shaw case concerns divorce and the South Florida case deals with same-sex couples requesting marriage licenses.