Miami Judge Approves Early Start to Florida's Gay Weddings
A judge ruled Monday that same-sex couples can immediately start getting marriage licenses in Miami-Dade County, getting a jump-start on Florida's entry as the 36th state where gay marriages are legal statewide.
Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted a stay on her July ruling that Florida's same-sex marriage ban violates equal protections under the U.S. Constitution.
Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin says he will begin issuing licenses immediately, so the first gay and lesbian weddings could take place Monday afternoon. A gay rights group already lined up two couples to be the first.
Same-sex marriages were expected to begin statewide after midnight Tuesday, when a separate ruling by a federal judge takes effect. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle clarified on New Year's Day that his ruling would cover all 67 Florida counties.
Florida's same-sex marriage ban was enshrined in the state constitution in 2008 by voters, who approved it by a 60 percent margin. But a series of rulings from judges in Florida - mirroring those in many other states - found the ban discriminatory and a violation of equal treatment and due process rights provided in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Even with marriage licenses being issued to gays and lesbians in Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi is trying to sustain the ban by pursuing appeals in state and federal courts. Those cases could cause further turmoil if an appellate court agrees with Bondi's position, that marriage should be defined by each state.
Opponents of same-sex marriage in Florida weren't giving up without a fight.
Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group based in the Orlando area, planned to file complaints in several counties Monday in an effort to block clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples, said the group's lawyer, Horatio "Harry" Mihet.
The group already tried to block Osceola County's clerk in a complaint filed on behalf of Florida Family Action, Inc., but that advocacy group's case was dismissed last week. A similar case is pending in Orange County.
Mihet still hopes for success in the courts, and said "the fact that some clerks may issue licenses against the law doesn't obviate any of the appeals."
This story is part of our special report titled "Gay Marriage." Want to read more? Here's the full list.