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Same-sex marriages in thirty-sixth state: Florida

Florida on Monday became the thirty-sixth state to allow same-sex marriages, as a state court judge in Miami ordered a Dade County clerk to start issuing licenses to same-sex couples.  The judge then personally performed some of the first weddings at the courthouse.  Elsewhere, a judge in Monroe County, in Key West, ruled that licenses could be issued there after midnight Monday.  Licenses are expected to be issued by other clerks across the state Tuesday morning, under an order by a federal trial judge.

In the wave of court rulings following the Supreme Court’s July 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor, this is the first time that same-sex marriages will be allowed for an entire state even though there is as yet no ruling that is binding statewide — by any federal or state court.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is considering an appeal by state officials in a pair of federal cases; briefing has been completed, but no hearing date set yet.   State officials, who previously sought to delay licensing for same-sex couples, said last week that they would no longer stand in the way of county clerks on the issue.

The first same-sex marriage were performed in Miami by Circuit Court Judge Sarah I. Zabel shortly after a brief hearing and her release of an order lifting a previous delay order.  The clerk for Dade County had asked Judge Zabel to clarify an earlier order delaying marriages, and lawyers for same-sex couples had asked the judge to let marriage licensing begin.  The state offered no resistance.

In Monroe County, Circuit Court Judge Luis M. Garcia lifted an earlier postponement order, as of midnight Monday — the point at which a similar order by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle is due to expire.  Judge Garcia noted that both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Eleventh Circuit had previously turned down requests by state officials to keep same-sex marriage licensing on hold during an appeal.  “The law of the land in Florida,” Judge Garcia wrote, “is that the [state’s] ban on same-sex marriage” is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced further.

Without the prospect of any further pleas to higher courts for delay, the issue appeared to be settled — at least in terms of marriage licensing and actual marriage ceremonies — in the nation’s third-largest state.  Same-sex marriages already are legal in two of the other largest states — California and New York.  In Texas, the second-ranking state, a federal judge has struck down that state’s ban, but that ruling has been postponed pending a state appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  The Fifth Circuit is due to hold separate hearings on Friday on that case and on state appeals in cases from Mississippi and Louisiana.

Since the Supreme Court last took action on the same-sex marriage issue, denying review on October 6 of cases from five states, same-sex marriages have become legal in seventeen more states.  Massachusetts became the first state to permit such marriages, with a state supreme court ruling in 2003.  The total had reached nineteen states, plus Washington, D.C., as of early October, before the Supreme Court passed up a chance to rule on the issue.

The Court is scheduled to consider five new cases at its private Conference on Friday.  It is not yet clear whether the Court will announce any actions on Friday on cases considered at that Conference, or will instead wait until the following Monday, when it returns to public sittings following a winter recess.




Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Same-sex marriages in thirty-sixth state: Florida, SCOTUSblog (Jan. 5, 2015, 4:17 PM),