Florida's march to marriage equality has been slow and arduous, but the United States Supreme Court just cleared what could be the final obstacle. The justices ruled late today that they would not grant Attorney General Pam Bondi's motion to continue a stay on an earlier ruling deeming the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
That means baring some unforeseen events, same sex couples will be allowed to marry in Florida on January 6th.
Back in August, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle struck down the state's gay marriage ban, but agreed to put a stay on the decision until the end of January 5th pending any further appeals.
Bondi had asked the 11th District Circuit Court to extend the stay, but the judges refused. Interestingly, that court has not yet itself invalidated gay marriage bans. The 11th District also covers more socially conservative states Georgia and Alabama.
Bondi then petitioned the Supreme Court to extend the stay. Their answer today: No. No further comment was added. Though, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented with the decision. Somewhat interestingly, Thomas could have decided the motion alone, as he hears applications from the 11th Circuit, but he instead decided to refer the matter to the full court.
The Supreme Court has previously let gay marriage proceed in other states where the District Appeals Court had already ruled that same-sex marriage bans were illegal. Florida's case is interesting because the 11th District Appeals Court has made no such ruling.
However, the Supreme Court's movements lately seem to indicate that they'd like to see marriage equality proceed state-by-state when that state is ready.
The ruling today will allow gay marriage to go forward in Florida without affecting Alabama and Georgia, where public opinion of same-sex marriage is much more negative.
Despite having passed an amendment in 2008 defining marriage as between one man and one woman, recent polling shows that the majority of Floridians are now in favor of gay marriage.
The Supreme Court however, is widely expected to at least think about taking up cases early next year that could clarify same-sex marriage's status across the country.