How the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to not take up marriage cases will affect Florida

By : Jamie Hyman
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While the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear same-sex marriage appeals from five states didn’t have any immediate or direct effect on Florida Oct. 6, it has paved the way for legal actions that may move the Sunshine State toward marriage equality.

“For us here in Florida, it doesn’t do anything immediately,” said Orlando attorney Mary Meeks, who is part of the legal team fighting for marriage for six South Florida same-sex couples. “It means it doesn’t look like we’re going to get this national ruling any time soon. It’s still possible the court could accept another case before this term ends but as time passes that becomes increasingly unlikely. It looks like we’re back to fighting out own battle in Florida.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said despite the lack of immediate effect for Florida, the Supreme Court’s message is clear.

“Of course we wish the U.S. Supreme Court would have acted to make marriage legal nationwide,” Smith said. “But what it has clearly done is send the message the decisions of state courts are to be respected and that lower court judges have the ability to strike down state Constitutional bans that violate the U.S. constitution.”

The American Civil Liberties Union plans to use the Supreme Court’s decision as leverage to move forward their case for marriage equality on behalf of eight couples, a Fort Myers widow and SAVE, South Florida’s largest LGBT rights organization. Judge Robert Hinkle overturned ban on gay marriage this summer but issued a stay on the case pending appeals.

The ACLU filed a motion to lift that stay Oct. 7. Meeks said if the motion is granted, Florida same-sex couples statewide would be able to marry.

The motion is hinged on two arguments—first, that the Supreme Court’s decision to not take up the case sends a significant message.

“The Supreme Court denied review outright in all of the cases before it, sending a strong signal that any remaining doubt about the Supreme Court’s ultimate resolution of the legal issue does not justify continuing to deny recognition of same-sex couples’ valid out-of-state marriages,” the motion reads.

The second argument is that the marriage ban causes harm to same-sex married couples that is “acute and in need of immediate resolution.”

Read the full motion: 2014-10-7-ACLU-087-Grimsley-Plaintiffs-motion-to-lift-stay

“Given that the justices of our nation’s highest court just sent a strong message that they are content to let equality in marriage happen, we hope that [Florida] Governor [Rick] Scott and [Florida] Attorney General [Pam] Bondi will give up their dead-end campaign to resist what is now clear historical inevitability by treating same-sex couples who wish to solemnize their love for one another in marriage as legal strangers,” said ACLU attorney Daniel Tilley in a media release.

Smith and Meeks both agree that the Supreme Court has rendered state level appeals moot.

“The Supreme Court has answered the question Bondi asked. She said she needed action by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Smith said. “They just delivered that message, so there’s no purpose any longer of pursuing an appeal except for spite, stubbornness or bigotry.”

Bondi—and her opponent in the November election, George Sheldon—addressed the issue at a televised debate Oct. 6.

Bondi was asked if she would stop defending Florida’s marriage ban, and she responded that there are still cases pending at the circuit level and she wants to wait and see how those are decided. She also said she and her team are “reviewing” the issue.

Sheldon said the Supreme Court’s non action shows the justices don’t think there is much disagreement on the issue among the lower courts.

“Government ought to get out of the business of telling people who they can love,” he said.

On the strictly legal side of things, Meeks said ultimately, the Supreme Court’s decision to not take up the cases are “a mixed bag for Florida. It could be good and could be bad in various different ways.”

It could delay marriage in Florida longer.

“If the U.S. Supreme Court had accepted cases, we would have decision most likely by next June one way or another,” Meeks said. “That is now off the table.”
She said worst case scenario, the state level cases go through a typical process and we could be looking at two years before there is any final decision.

As far as positive effects to, in addition to the increase political pressure for Scott and Bondi, Meeks said the Supreme Court non-action could mean a faster ruling from the Florida Supreme Court.

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