Florida recognizes same-sex marriage.

The first same-sex marriages to take effect on January 6, 2015.

A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Florida  banned same-sex marriage by statute in 1977 and added a prohibition on the recognition of marriages from other jurisdictions in 1997. In 1997, the Florida Legislature overwhelmingly adopted its own Defense of Marriage Act, which states marriage is the "union between one man and one woman" and prevented the state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

On November 4, 2008, voters approved Florida Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state. The amendment passed by 62% of voters, passage required approval by 60% of the voters. Voters approved an amendment that banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions on November 4, 2008. The state also imposed criminal penalties on any court clerk who issues a marriage license to a same-sex couples.

MAKING HISTORY

State courts in two cases challenging the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples have agreed that Florida's statutes and constitution violate the federal constitution. Those courts in Miami-Dade County (Pareto v. Ruvin) and Monroe County (Huntsman v. Heavilin) have stayed enforcement of their decisions pending appeal. Other lawsuits in state court have sought recognition of an individual same-sex marriage with varying results.

According to a legal opinion provided to the Florida Court Clerks' Association in December 2014 in anticipation of an injunction in the case of Brenner v. Scott, a clerk who grants a marriage license to a same-sex couple faces criminal penalties, a legal provision it called "apparently unique" to Florida. Penalties can include fines as high as $1,000 and up to a year in prison.

Two courts have ordered state officials to recognize a specific marriage established outside of Florida, a federal court in Brenner v. Scott and a state court in Estate of Bangor.

 

BRENNER V. SCOTT

– On February 28, 2014, civil rights attorneys filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on behalf of a Florida same-sex couple who married in Canada. The case, Brenner v. Scott, was assigned to Judge Robert Lewis Hinkle. On March 13, 2014, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar suit, Grimsley v. Scott, in the same court on behalf of a Miami-Dade LGBT advocacy group and eight same-sex couples already married in other states asking the courts to order Florida to recognize their marriages. It named Governor Rick Scott and three other state officials as defendants.

Judge Hinkle consolidated Brenner and Grimsley on April 21, 2014.  On August 21, 2014 the judge ruled that Florida's statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. His stay on the enforcement of his decision expires on January 5, 2015.  He also  ordered the state to recognize the marriage in New York in 2011 of the late Carol Goldwasser and plaintiff Arlene Goldberg and to revise the former's death certificate to reflect that marriage. The state defendants  appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals under the case style Brenner v. Armstrong. On December 3, 20014 the Eleventh Circuit denied a request to extend the stay from Hinkle's earlier ruling and the U.S. Supreme Court on December 19, 2014 rejected Florida's request.

On January 1, 2015, Judge Hinkle clarified his order after one defendant, the Washington County Clerk, inquired whether he was ordering her to issue more than the one marriage license specified in his preliminary injunction. Hinkle explained that his order applied only to the specific circumstances presented by the plaintiffs seeking relief, but that all Florida clerks should understand from his ruling that the U.S. Constitution required them to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

So starting tomorrow January 6, 2015, gay couples can, and will, legally marry in the State of Florida. 

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