Miami-Dade judge rules against ban on gay marriage

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. - PHOTO: Courtesy

A state trial court in Miami on July 25 struck down Florida’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples and ordered Miami-Dade County to allow same-sex couples to marry. However, the judge stayed the order pending appeal.

The case, one of several freedom to marry cases in Florida, was brought by the Equality Florida Institute and same-sex couples — Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello, Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, Todd and Jeff Delmay, Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber, and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz.

The plaintiffs' attorneys include the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, Elizabeth F. Schwartz, Mary B. Meeks, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Judge Sarah Zabel heard the oral argument in the case on July 1. The couples argued that Florida’s ban on marriage equality cannot stand in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Every court to consider the federal constitutional claims since last summer’s high court decision has ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, including courts in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Zabel, in her decision on July 25, wrote, "Preventing couples from marrying solely on the basis of their sexual orientation serves no governmental interest. It serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society."

The decision from Miami-Dade comes two weeks after Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia issued a decision striking down Florida’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples and ordering Monroe County to allow same-sex couples to marry. That decision was appealed by Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, which automatically stayed the decision.

Bondi has already indicated plans to appeal the Miami-Dade ruling.

NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter said after the ruling, “Today’s decision affirms the fundamental principles of equality and fairness and the common humanity of gay and lesbian people. As the court recognized, these families are part of Florida’s community, and equal protection requires that they be given the same legal protections and respect as other families in this state. The Court’s ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case, but for everyone who cares about freedom and fairness.”

Equality Florida Institute CEO Nadine Smith said, “Today's ruling is a victory for thousands of couples who have been denied access to marriage. It is a victory for children who have longed for the day when their families would be respected equally under the law. And it is a victory for all Floridians who share the values of fairness and equality under the law. We applaud Judge Zabel for her decision. No matter the legal path ahead, we will continue to fight until the day we all have the right in Florida to marry the person we love.”

Marriage equality has become an issue in the race for governor in Florida.

Incumbent Republican Rick Scott says he supports the amendment, though he claims he opposes discrimination.

Charlie Crist, who is expected to be the Democratic nominee, opposes the amendment and wants to see it overturned. When he was governor, and a Republican, he supported the ban.

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