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Federal judge: Florida gay-marriage ban unconstitutional

By By Steve Rothaus

The Miami Herald (MCT)

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 2:30 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 3:15 p.m. MDT

July 2, 2014 - Chaunce O'Connor rallies outside a court house during the court hearing on gay marriage in Miami.

J Pat Carter, AP

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A federal judge on Thursday ruled Florida’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional and ordered the state to recognize marriages legally performed elsewhere. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, however, immediately stayed his order until after the appeals process is completed.

“When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination,” Hinkle wrote. “Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held.”

Hinkle’s ruling comes after 22 individuals including nine married couples sued Florida to recognize their marriages or grant them marriage licenses. Plaintiffs in the case include eight same-sex couples from South Florida and LGBT-rights group SAVE.

“While we are overjoyed that the judge erred on the side of fairness by ordering the state of Florida recognize the legal marriages of the plaintiffs, we will continue to make the case that it is Florida’s responsibility to recognize the legal marriages of ALL same-sex couples, and not only those named as plaintiffs in our suit,” SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima said in a statement. “SAVE will continue to advocate for a pro-equality ruling as the court examines the case further in the weeks and months ahead.”

Whitney Ray, a spokesman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, declined to say if Bondi’s office was planning to appeal. “We’re reviewing the ruling,” he said.

In March, eight same-sex couples who married elsewhere in the United States sued Florida to recognize their unions.

On April 10, the ACLU of Florida amended its complaint by adding another plaintiff: Arlene Goldberg of Fort Myers, whose wife, Carol Goldwasser, died March 13. Goldberg and Goldwasser had been partners for 47 years. They moved from the Bronx to Florida in 1989 and married in New York in October 2011.

The ACLU suit eventually was consolidated with a similar case involving two couples in North Florida, one already married and the other wanting to wed.

“It’s the first federal decision in Florida. When the stay is lifted, it will have statewide impact,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “What it will mean, when the stay is ultimately lifted, is that their families will be protected and strengthened. They’ll start getting health insurance, pension benefits. They could protect their families with survivors benefits. These are the dramatic, practical ways that this victory will ultimately help families in Florida.”

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