Friday Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel struck down Florida’s ban on marriage for committed same-sex couples in what is now the 28th consecutive ruling by a federal or state court in favor of marriage equality in the past year. This decision affirms what another court found recently in a case out of Key West – Florida’s denial of marriage equality violates the U.S. Constitution.
The case was brought by Equality Florida Institute and Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello, Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, Todd and Jeff Delmay, Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber, and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz. They are represented by the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, Elizabeth F. Schwartz, Mary B. Meeks, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
On July 1, 2014, Judge Sarah Zabel of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court heard oral argument in the case. The couples argued that Florida’s ban on marriage equality cannot stand in light of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Every court to consider these federal constitutional claims since last summer’s Supreme Court decision has ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, including federal and state courts in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter said, “Today’s decision affirms the fundamental principles of equality and fairness and the common humanity of gay and lesbian people. As the Court recognized, these families are part of Florida’s community, and equal protection requires that they be given the same legal protections and respect as other families in this state. The Court’s ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case, but for everyone who cares about freedom and fairness.”
Catherina Pereto added,“It means so much for a court to recognize our family and say that we must be treated equally. We love this state and want nothing more than to be treated as equal citizens who contribute to the community and help make Florida an even better place for everyone who lives here. Today’s ruling means that we can finally have the same legal protections as other married couples and the security of knowing that our family is legally secure.”
Below is an excerpt from the ruling by Judge Zabel.
In 1776, our Nation’s Founders went to war in pursuit of a then-novel, yet noble, goal: the creation of a government that recognizes its people are “endowed . . . with certain inalienable rights” and that all are equal in the eyes of the law. THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, para. 2 (U.S. 1776). Unfortunately, history shows that prejudice corrupted the implementation of these ideals and that the corrective wheels of justice turn at a glacial pace. Slavery, for instance, plagued this nation from the time of its birth, and it took a bloody civil war, nearly one hundred years later, to break free from this malady. Segregation, though, took slavery’s place, and it was not until the 1960s that we rid ourselves of this similarly horrible disease. Women too, had to fight for equality, and it was not until 1920 that they were first able to vote. Nevertheless, like race, it was not until the social unrest of the 1960s that gender equality had any meaning. The Native Americans also faced rampant discrimination until the 1960s and 1970s as well.
Notably absent from this protracted march towards social justice was any progress for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community until quite recently. However, as evidenced by the avalanche of court decisions unanimously favoring marriage equality, the dam that was denying justice on this front has been broken. The Court, nonetheless, recognizes that its decision today is divisive and will cause some Floridians great discomfort. This decision, though, “is not made in defiance of the great people of [Florida] or the [Florida] Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.” De Leon, 975 F. Supp. 2d at 665-66.
Judge Zabel also ordered the following eight items in her ruling.
1.) Florida’s same-sex marriage bans violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, and they also offend basic human dignity. The Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment is therefore GRANTED.
2.) Article 1, section 27 of Florida’s Constitution is void and unenforceable.
3.) Except for those portions denying State recognition of valid same-sex marriages in other jurisdictions, section 741.212, Florida Statutes, is also void and unenforceable. The excepted subsections were not challenged in this case, but the Court notes their validity is under review in Florida’s Northern Federal District Court.
4.) The portion of section 741.04(1), Florida Statutes, prohibiting the issuance of a marriage license “unless one party is a male and the other party is a female” is similarly void and unenforceable.
5.) The Clerk of Courts shall NOT be prosecuted under section 741.05, Florida Statutes, for attempting to comply with this Order.
6.) The Clerk of Courts is also directed to modify its marriage license forms so that they conform to this Order’s holding in the manner it deems most appropriate.
7.) Understanding its ruling is unlikely to be the “final word” on the topic of same-sex marriage, the Court immediately stays this Order pending the outcome of the expected appeal(s). Although this Court recognizes that a person should not be denied a fundamental right for even one day, it feels the uncertainty that could arise if same-sex couples were to marry pursuant to an order that is subsequently reversed on appeal warrants a stay. If affirmed, the Party-Defendants are hereby required to issue marriage licenses to the Plaintiffs and to all otherwise qualified same-sex couples who apply for marriage licenses, subject to the same restrictions and limitations applicable to opposite-sex couples.
8.) Finally, the Court retains jurisdiction for the purposes of enforcing this Order and for subsequent determination and assignment of attorney fees, court costs, etc.
Equality Florida Institute Chief Executive Officer Nadine Smith said, “Today’s ruling is a victory for thousands of couples who have been denied access to marriage. It is a victory for children who have longed for the day when their families would be respected equally under the law. And it is a victory for all Floridians who share the values of fairness and equality under the law. We applaud Judge Zabel for her decision. No matter the legal path ahead, we will continue to fight until the day we all have the right in Florida to marry the person we love.”
“Today Judge Zabel joins a chorus of judges from all across the nation, including another judge in Florida, who have found that bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional,” said Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry’s national campaign director. “The plaintiffs in this case want what all couples want: the freedom to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and protect their families – a protection that only marriage can provide. Majorities of Americans in Florida and across the country support the freedom to marry. Today’s decision further highlights how out of step Sen. Marco Rubio is, with growing numbers in his own party, a strong majority of Floridians, and now increasingly the Florida courts.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reaffirmed his opposition to marriage for same-sex couples in a speech on Wednesday at Catholic University.
Same-sex couples can marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia, meaning that 44 percent of Americans now live in states where gay couples share in the freedom to marry.Recent polling by the Washington Post/ABC News shows 59 percent of Americans support the freedom to marry, while other polling shows majority support in Florida.
The full order is below for reference.