After three weeks of deliberation, Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Pareto v. Ruvin lawsuit, ruling that same-sex couples in Florida's most densely populated county can receive marriage licenses. That order has been stayed, however, pending an appeal by the state's attorney general.
"We are both beyond excited. Words can't explain really," says Vanessa Alenier, who filed the suit with her partner Melanie. "It's little surreal to look at Melanie and know, we will soon be married in the state we love."
The news from Zabel comes just more than a week after Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia also ruled against the state's ban on same-sex marriage in Key West.
Attorney General Pam Bondi has appealed that ruling, however, and Garcia denied a motion to lift his stay on issuing gay couples marriage licenses in the meantime. Zabel has also reportedly issued a stay on her ruling, meaning Miami-Dade gay couples won't be able to nab marriage licenses until the state's appeals are sorted out.
The Aleniers, who have a five-a-half year old son together, say they'll celebrate the ruling anyway.
"We knew the day would come, but now it's here, we feel pre-wedding excitement," said Melanie. "I hope statewide and county-wide gay and lesbian couples can get married in the places they call home."
Jeffrey Michael Cohen, the attorney who represented the Aleniers and five other couples, argued in their hearing on July 2nd that although 62 percent of voters amended state constitution in 2008 to only recognize marriages between a man and women, that this law discriminates against gay and lesbian couples. The amendment robs them of the same basic dignities and legal protections that heterosexual couples have in the eyes of the law, he argued, making them, "secondhand citizens through [majority] decisions that lessen their dignity."
Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum, who represented the state, argued that it wasn't up to Zabel to decide whether the voters' decision in 2008 was a good policy, but to respect the state's amended constitution.
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But Zabel, like Garcia, has now struck down the state's ban because of concerns that the minority was being deprived of their Constitutional rights. Her ruling states: "The recognition that the right to marry encompasses categories of people not traditionally considered to be accorded that right has been slow in coming, but it has become increasingly obvious that it is not constitutionally permissible to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. The journey of our Nation towards becoming 'a more perfect Union' does not stop at any particular generation; it is instead a fluid process through every generation. ... The Court, therefore, foresees a day when the term 'same-sex marriage' is viewed in the same absurd vein as 'separate but equal' and is thus forsaken and supplanted by ordinary 'marriage.'"
Here's what Garcia had to say on the point: "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... the Constitution guarantees and protects all of its citizens from government interference with those rights."
With Zabel's ruling today, this case, along with the Huntsman v. in Monroe County, (and another also in Miami-Dade County) could lead to the statewide legalization of same-sex marriage -- but only if the Third District Court of Appeals and ultimately the Florida State Supreme Court (and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court) agree with her and Garcia's decision.