Same-sex marriages are likely to start in the Sunshine State on January 6. That is thanks to an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision today denying the state's motion to extend U.S. Federal Judge Robert Hinkle's stay on his summertime ruling that held Florida's ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
U.S. Federal Judge Robert Hinkle has set the end of the day of January 5 as the time he would automatically lift the stay on the merged federal case in Florida challenging the ban. When the stay is removed, even though there still has not been a final decision by the 11th Circuit Court, same-sex couples will be able to marry across Florida.
"Now the rights of so many loving same-sex couples will finally be recognized in Florida," said Connie Siu, the statewide field coordinator for Equality Florida. "I feel speechless because this has been a long time coming."
Gay couples and LGBT advocates across Florida are celebrating the news.
"I am humbled by the decision the 11th Circuit Court has made today and I am hopeful that our arguments will prevail in the appeal process," said James Brenner, who is part of the merged federal case that has prompted marriage equality's debut in Florida.
In Broward County Heather Brassner has been fighting the state's ban so she could divorce her former wife Megan Lade (who abandoned Brassner) and finally marry her longtime girlfriend Jennifer Feagin.
"It is like I always knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but I can finally see it," Brassner said. "I'm just glad that equality, respect and love won."
In Key West, Aaron Huntsman and his longtime partner William "Lee" Jones are over joyous. The couple is part of the Monroe County court case Huntsman v. Heavlin which was the state's first circuit court ruling to strike down the state's ban on same-sex marriage
"This is what we've been hoping for," said an exuberant Aaron Huntsman. "Lee and I are happy with this just being over soon and excited for the LGBT community in Florida because this issue is soon coming to an end. I am excited that everyone will have the right to marry."
Hinkle originally ruled in August on Brenner v. Scott and its companion case, Grimsley v. Scott, that the state ban on gay marriage, passed in 2008, was unconstitutional.
"The Florida provisions that prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully entered elsewhere, like the federal provision, are unconstitutional," wrote Hinkle in his ruling. "So is the Florida ban on entering same-sex marriages."
Hinkle stayed his ruling, however, pending the state's appeal by the Secretary of the Florida Department of Health John H. Armstrong, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services Craig Nichols, and the former Clerk of Court of Washington County Harold Bazzel (all of whom Hinkle listed as the "proper" Appellants).
Today's decision by the 11th Circuit Court, which is based in Atlanta, denied the state's request to extend that stay.
"Having reviewed and fully considered the Motion, the parties' briefs, and the orders issued by the District Court in the proceedings below, the Court hereby denies Appellants' Motion. The stay of preliminary injunctions entered by the District Court expires at the end of the day on January 5, 2015."
The state may ask the U.S. Supreme Court to extend the stay, but since the highest court in the land has shown no willingness recently to stay any other lower court decisions on gay marriage, that move would be unlikely.
The only other way that marriage equality could be further delayed in coming to the Sunshine State is if the 11th Circuit Court makes a ruling before January 5 and rules against same-sex couples' right to marry. However, according to Equality Florida this is "highly unlikely."
Otherwise, Florida will have marriage equality at the beginning of 2015.