Florida Gay-Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional by U.S. Judge

Aug 22, 2014 12:01 am ET

Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge who issued an order that may force the state to recognize such marriages, depending on the outcome of appeals in similar cases.

The order by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee follows more than two dozen other state and federal court rulings across the country over the past year striking down laws against recognizing or performing gay marriages.

Likening Florida’s ban to laws from decades ago prohibiting interracial marriage, Hinkle wrote that future observers will “wonder just how those views could have been held.”

“Marriage is a fundamental right,” he said in yesterday’s ruling. “Gays and lesbians, like all other adults, may choose a life partner and dignify the relationship through marriage.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and a woman, 19 federal courts across the U.S. have ruled that state laws denying same-sex marriage rights are unconstitutional, Hinkle wrote.

Many of those rulings have been put on hold as appeals advance toward the Supreme Court. Hinkle stayed his ruling pending the outcome of those cases.

Appeals Courts

U.S. appeals courts in Denver and Richmond, Virginia, have affirmed lower-court findings that same-sex marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia are unconstitutional. Wisconsin and Indiana rulings are set to be considered this month by a federal appeals court in Chicago, while Nevada and Idaho cases come before a San Francisco-based appeals panel in September.

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati heard arguments this month on lower-court rulings striking down prohibitions in Michigan and Kentucky, ordering Ohio and Tennessee as well as Kentucky to recognize gay marriages legally performed elsewhere and ruling that Ohio must recognize such unions on birth and death certificates.

If the panel of two Republican appointees and one Democrat affirms the bans, a split with a Denver appeals court will occur, making Supreme Court review probable.

Any of the appellate cases could be accepted for review by the high court. A ruling by an appeals court that upholds a gay- marriage ban would make a review by the nation’s top court more likely.

Reviewing Ruling

Jennifer Meale, a spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, declined to say whether the state would appeal Hinkle’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which has jurisdiction over federal courts in Florida.

“We are reviewing the ruling,” she said in a phone interview.

In July, state judges in Miami and the Florida Keys also ruled that the Florida ban was unconstitutional.

Florida’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages “serves no legitimate purpose and is hurtful to Florida families,” said Daniel Tilley, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which filed the federal case. “We’re very pleased to see the ban held unconstitutional in such unequivocal terms so that all Florida families will soon finally have the same protections.”

The case is Brenner v. Scott, 14-cv-00107, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Tallahassee).