Second judge rules Florida’s marriage ban unconstitutional

By : Steve Blanchard
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Miami – A second judge this month has ruled that the voter-initiated ban on same-sex marriages in Florida is unconstitutional. Judge Sarah Zabel released her decision on July 25, almost three weeks after hearing arguments July 2 in a lawsuit filed by the Equality Florida Institute and six same-sex couples.

“To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the . . . classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law,” Zabel wrote in her decision. “The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious . . . discriminations.”

Zabel goes on to say that restrictions on same-sex marriage violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution and that they infringe upon the plaintiffs’ ability to exercise their fundamental right to marry the person of choice.

“They also unlawfully discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” she continues.

The plaintiffs include six couples who live in Florida, as well as Equality Florida Institute, Inc.

“We are so thrilled that Judge Zabel in Miami has joined the parade of courts throughout the nation that have recognized that these marriage bans violate not just the basic tenets of our federal Constitution, but in Judge Zabel’s words, ‘offend basic human dignity,'” said Mary Meeks, a lawyer in the case. “We look forward to the day, hopefully very soon, when our Plaintiff couples and all Florida citizens will have the freedom to marry the person they love.”

The state argued that since the ban was adopted by Florida voters in 2008, it should stand. Zabel disagreed.

“Regardless of the justifications provided by an enactment’s proponents, . . . if such an enactment violates the U.S. Constitution—whether passed by the people or their representatives—judicial intervention is necessary to preserve the rule of law . . . The electorate cannot order a violation of the Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses by referendum or otherwise, just as the state may not avoid their application by deferring to the wishes or objections of its citizens.”

An immediate stay was put in place, meaning same-sex couples can’t marry in Florida just yet, but it’s a step in the right direction, according to Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida.

“Today’s ruling brings us closer than we’ve ever been to the freedom to marry in Florida,” Smith said. “Now this case also heads to a higher court which hopefully will result in a victory that will apply state wide!”

More details on the ruling will be released soon.

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