Federal judge issues final ruling on Florida’s marriage ban

By : Jamie Hyman
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That settles it.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle has issued a final ruling that Florida’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. This ruling should bring an end to the state’s attempt to continue to not fully recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

Hinkle’s order is a summary judgment of Grimsley v. Scott and Brenner v. Scott, the cases that brought marriage equality to Florida. In Grimsley v. Scott, the ACLU represented eight couples, a recently widowed woman and SAVE, an LGBT rights organization, in their lawsuit fighting for marriage equality. Brenner v. Scott is on behalf of a Leon County same-sex couple who wanted their Canadian marriage recognized by Florida, filed by attorneys in Jacksonville. The cases were consolidated and in 2014, Judge Hinkle issued an injunction in the cases declaring the state’s marriage ban unconstitutional. The injunction expired in January 2015, which brought marriage equality to Florida.

The March 31 ruling clarifies that the plaintiffs’ claims are not moot after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land, because Florida officials continued to resist efforts to fully recognize the marriages of same-sex couples.

“Today’s decision decisively affirms the right of same-sex couples to equal treatment under the law,” ACLU of Florida LGBT rights staff attorney Daniel Tilleysaid in a media release. “This is a great decision that will strengthen Florida’s families. Judge Hinkle painstakingly described how Florida has resisted compliance with the Constitution’s mandate of equal treatment every step of the way. He also noted that our Florida legislature cannot escape the mandates of the constitution simply by leaving unconstitutional laws on the books.”

According to the ACLU, Judge Hinkle declared, “It cannot be said that the state defendants have unambiguously terminated their illegal practices,” because the state had demonstrated a “history of resistance” to recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples – including repeated refusals to acknowledge their legal losses, the refusal to issue birth certificates that recognize same-sex parents even after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, and the legislature’s refusal to take action to remove the unconstitutional language from the books.

“[T]he answer should be easy. The statutory reference to ‘husband’ cannot prevent equal treatment of a same-sex spouse. So, for example, in circumstances in which the Surgeon General lists on a birth certificate an opposite-sex spouse who is not a biological parent, the Surgeon General must list a same-sex spouse who is not a biological parent,” Judge Hinkle’s order reads.

The Chin legal team, led by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, filed a lawsuit in August 2015 on behalf of three lesbian couples fighting to have both parents’ names put on their children’s birth certificates. The attorneys issued a statement on Judge Hinkle’s order:

“We are delighted that the Court made it crystal clear that the State of Florida and the Department of Vital Statistics must issue birth certificates listing both spouses and that they should have been doing so all along. We look forward to Judge Hinkle’s ruling in Chin, which we expect based on the ruling today will directly order the Department to do so.”

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