Court of Appeal tells Bondi marriage cases must move forward

By : Staff Report
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Tallahassee – Pam Bondi can’t avoid the marriage equality debate any longer. That’s according to a decision released by the Third District Court of Appeal Aug. 28.

“Upon consideration, appellant’s motions to stay briefing are denied,” wrote the Third District Court of Appeal in a terse ruling.
That means Bondi’s request to hold off deciding the constitutionality of Florida’s same-sex marriage ban was shot down.

Bondi told the court she wanted to just let the U.S. Supreme Court someday rule on the issue.

Bondi’s spokeswoman Jennifer Meale told the Tampa Bay Times that “the Court has ruled that the case will move forward, and we will proceed accordingly.”

Bernadette Restivo, the attorney representing Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones who are two Key West bartenders who won the right to marry in Monroe County Circuit Court, was excited about the news.

“That is the best news of the day. We would have been sitting in limbo for an undetermined amount of time,” said Restivo. “Pam Bondi’s stay would have caused enormous irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and other similarly situated. Every day that we move forward in this case will hopefully mean we are moving closer to ending this oppressive discrimination.”

Luis Garcia, Monroe’s Chief Circuit Judge, was the first judge to rule the 2008 ban unconstitutional. Florida law mandates that an automatic stay pending appeal is triggered when a public official—in this case, Bondi—loses a court case.

Shortly after Garcia’s decision, Judge Sarah Zabel came to the same conclusion when she heard a case involving six same-sex couples who wanted their marriages recognized or be granted the right to marry in the Sunshine State.
Zabel stayed her decision.

Bondi has appealed the cases and on Aug. 7 asked the appeals court not to hear them until after the U.S. Supreme Court decides the issue.

“Neither this Court nor the Florida Supreme Court can decide this federal issue with finality,” Bondi wrote to the appeals court. “The United States Supreme Court, however, ‘has the final word on the United States Constitution.’ ”

Now, the two cases will be joined together. The appeals court agreed to the plaintiffs’ request to consolidate the Monroe and Miami-Dade cases, so they can be heard together in appeal.

“For consistency sake, the cases are very similar,” Restivo said. “We have been working in conjunction with the attorneys in the [Miami-Dade] case. It’s important for us to work together to narrowly tailor the issues on appeal. We’re speaking out of one voice sending the exact issues up to the Florida Supreme Court.”

The appeals court ruling came a day after an equivalent court in Southwest Florida asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide the issue once and for all.

Three other judges in Florida have also declared the state’s 2008 gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

On Aug. 4, Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen agreed to dissolve the Vermont civil union of Lake Worth art dealer Heather Brassner, whose former partner cheated on her and then disappeared. Cohen, stayed the ruling, but says he will formally divorce Brassner and Megan Lade on Sept. 10 unless Bondi appeals his order.

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