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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 8 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 32
Two judges agree: Florida must recognize same-sex marriages
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Two judges agree: Florida must recognize same-sex marriages

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Two more Florida judges have declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

One ruled on August 4 that the state must recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other jurisdictions and accord same-sex spouses the same rights as those enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples.

The next day, a second Florida judge said the state cannot prevent a man from inheriting his same-sex partner's estate.

Florida Circuit Judge Dale Cohen said on August 4 that the state must recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other jurisdictions. Ironically, the ruling came in a divorce case.

Heather Brassner and Megan Lade were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2002. The couple later broke up, and Lade disappeared, according to Brassner's attorney.

Brassner filed for divorce last year, but in the past Florida judges have refused to grant divorces to same-sex couples, saying they cannot dissolve a marriage that the state does not recognize.

A ban on same-sex marriage was enacted after a 2008 statewide referendum in which 62% of the electorate voted for a state constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman.

Brassner asked Cohen to declare the state's ban unconstitutional. In her brief, Brassner's attorney, Nancy Brodzki, cited Loving v. Virginia, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down Virginia's ban on interracial marriage.

She said Florida's ban on same-sex marriage is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and due process for all citizens.

Cohen agreed, authorizing the divorce, and also ordering Broward County clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Cohen thus became the third Florida judge to order state officials to issue marriage licenses to Gay and Lesbian couples. On July 17 a judge in Monroe County was the first, followed on July 25 by a Miami-Dade judge.

On August 5, Florida Circuit Judge Diana Lewis also found that the state must recognize out-of-state Gay marriages for the purposes of inheritance.

Plaintiff W. Jason Simpson married his late spouse in another state and sought to inherit his estate, just as an opposite sex spouse would. Lewis ruled that state law barring recognition of the marriage is unconstitutional, and ruled that Simpson cannot be blocked from claiming the estate.

Lewis said her ruling only applied to Simpson and his partner's estate. The three other rulings have been stayed pending appeal by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, an opponent of marriage equality. Bondi has already appealed the Monroe and Miami-Dade decisions and is expected to appeal the Broward one as well.

For now, the decisions only apply to the counties in which they were issued. The next step is for Florida's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to review the Monroe and Miami-Dade rulings.

Plaintiffs in both cases have moved to consolidate their cases and filed a motion seeking review directly by the Florida Supreme Court.

Florida LGBT activists celebrated their third win.

'Every win in court brings us closer than we've ever been to the freedom to marry in Florida,' said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida.

'We look forward to the day when all loving, committed couples and their families enjoy the same protections, opportunities and responsibilities of marriage under the law. Every passing day inflicts real hardships on families who are denied the legal protection and dignity that marriage equality provides.'

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