A Monroe County judge has struck down Florida's gay marriage ban, and ruled that licenses could be issued to same-sex partners as soon as next Tuesday. However Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia's ruling only applies to the county that's mostly continuous with the Florida Keys. It's still possible that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi could request a stay on the decision.
The defendants in the case are Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, two bartenders who have been a couple for 11 years. Their case mirrors another in Miami-Dade involving six same-sex couple before Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel. She has yet to issue a ruling, but is expected to within the month.
Update: Bondi has indeed announced her decision to appeal the decision. See more below.
Back in 2008, Florida voters passed Amendment 2 which placed a ban on not only gay marriage but any similar union between same sex couples in the state constitution. It's only fitting then that a Monroe County judge is the first to strike the ban down. It was the only county in Florida where a majority of voters, 52 percent, voted against the ban.
The biggest town in the county is Key West, long known as a gay haven. Instead of watching a ball drop on New Year's Eve, residents gather around a popular gay bar to watch a drag queen descend in an oversized shoe.
The case was being argued by Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum, who is also representing the state in the Miami-Dade case. His main argument was that courts should not overthrow the will of the voters. However, recent polling indicates that if the measure was placed on the ballot today it would not reach the 60 percent threshold it would need to become law.
A Quinnipiac poll from April found that 56 percent of registered voters supported same-sex marriage.
Judge Garcia, who was originally appointed in 2000 by Republican Governor Jeb Bush, ruled that the ban violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
"This court concludes that a citizen's right to marry is a fundamental right that belongs to the individual," wrote Garcia.
Though, Garcia voluntarily issued a stay on his decision until next Tuesday, Bondi could tie up the decision in court before marriage licenses are actually issued. She would need to request a stay in the case that would need to be approved by state court of appeals or Florida Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, supporters are hopeful that this means progress is finally being made in Florida on the same-sex marriage front.
"Today's court ruling in Florida is further proof that America is ready for marriage equality nationwide," said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a statement. "Unfortunately, same-sex couples in a majority of states still don't have the right to marry, creating a confusing patchwork of marriage laws across the country. This is not only unsustainable, but it's also unconstitutional."
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Update: Unsurprisingly, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi has indeed decided to appeal.
"With many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court," she said in a statement.
It's likely a higher court will stay the decision, meaning licenses will not be issued next week. The case could ultimately be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.