A Florida judge Monday declared the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and, for the first time, ordered officials to recognize legal unions from other states.
The ruling, by Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen, was the third in three weeks striking down the 2008 referendum that limited marriage to heterosexuals.
Nothing will change immediately; Cohen put his ruling on hold to allow an expected appeal by State Attorney General Pam Bondi. She has already appealed July decisions in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties that struck down the marriage ban but did not recognize unions from other states.
Declaring that the "tides are turning" nationwide regarding marriage equality, Cohen wrote:
"This Court believes that the issue here is not whether there is a right to same-sex marriage but instead whether there is a right to marriage from which same-sex couples can be excluded. The State of Florida cannot ignore the status and dignity afforded to opposite-sex couples, who were married out-of-state, and not extend those same rights, dignities and benefits to same-sex couples similarly situated. ...
"To discriminate based on sexual orientation, to deny families equality, to stigmatize children and spouses, to hold some couples less worthy of legal benefits than others based on their sexual orientation, to deny individuals tax credits, marital property rights, the ability to dissolve their unions from other jurisdictions is against all that this country holds dear, as it denies equal citizenship. Marriage is a well recognized fundamental right; all people should be entitled to enjoy its benefits."
His opinion came in the case of Heather Brassner, who wants to divorce her estranged partner, Megan Lade, so she can remarry. They were united in Vermont through a civil union in 2002, seven years before the state legalized same-sex marriages.
But, as the Miami Heraldexplains, "Florida law forbids recognizing the Vermont civil union and therefore won't permit a divorce. And Vermont won't dissolve the union, either, without a signed affidavit from Lade."
The two have been separated for four years. Brassner, an art dealer from Lake Worth, Fla., petitioned for divorce in Broward County in September.
"It's what I was hoping to happen," the 41-year-old Brassner told reporters Monday after hugging her new girlfriend, Jennifer Feagin, at the Broward County Courthouse. "Now, we get ready for the appeal, I guess."