State judge strikes down Florida's gay marriage ban, stays ruling

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 25, 2014 6:23 PM

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A state judge struck down Florida's gay marriage ban on Friday in the latest in a string of legal gay-rights victories that have nonetheless been put on hold for resolution by higher courts.

Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel in Miami-Dade County said Florida's ban violated the constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, as well as offended "basic human decency." Florida's attorney general quickly said he would appeal.

But Zabel said the slew of recent verdicts showed it is "increasingly obvious" it is not constitutionally permissible to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

"Preventing couples from marrying solely on the basis of their sexual orientation serves no governmental interest," she wrote.

"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."

Don Price Johnston, a 44-year-old plaintiff in the Miami lawsuit, said he was thrilled with the ruling.

"It's spectacular ... I'm extremely happy," he said, adding that he did not mind that the decision had been stayed for now.

"It's not like we're going to lose. We just have to wait," Johnston said. "I've been waiting for more than 25 years for this right. A few more months won't kill me."

Last week a judge whose jurisdiction includes the Florida Keys ordered the Monroe County Clerk of Court to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting on Tuesday.

That ruling was automatically put on hold after Florida's Attorney General, Pam Bondi, a Republican, said she planned to appeal it and that the final decision on the issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

While that ruling applied to only one county, it was the first decision in several court cases across the state challenging the same-sex marriage ban which was approved by Florida voters in 2008.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Sandra Maler)