Federal Court Rules that Florida Ban on Marriage for Same-Sex Couples is Unconstitutional

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
August 21, 2014 12:00 am

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Lawsuit filed by ACLU of Florida on behalf of 8 couples, Ft. Myers widow and SAVE challenged ban; Judge holds that ban violates due process and equal protection

Augst 8, 2014

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TALLAHASSEE, FL Today, a federal district court judge in Tallahassee held that Florida’s discriminatory marriage ban cannot be enforced in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. The ruling applies both to the granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Florida and the recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples performed outside of the state.

The judge’s ruling comes as a result of two separate lawsuits including one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida. The ACLU of Florida’s lawsuit challenges the ban on marriage recognition on behalf of eight married same-sex couples, a Ft. Myers woman whose wife recently passed away, and SAVE, the largest LGBT-rights organization in South Florida. The lawsuit with which the ACLU of Florida’s lawsuit has been consolidated was filed by Jacksonville attorneys William Sheppard and Samuel Jacobson on behalf of two couples—one seeking to get married and another seeking to have their marriage recognized in Florida.

“I am overjoyed that the state we made our home in will soon recognize that what Carol and I had was marriage,” stated Arlene Goldberg of Ft. Myers, a plaintiff whose wife and partner of 47 years, Carol Goldwasser, passed away.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle held that by denying the plaintiffs fundamental right to marry, Florida’s marriage ban violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. He also held that there was no justification for denying recognition of the marriages stating that “[t]he undeniable truth is that the Florida ban on same-sex marriage stems entirely, or almost entirely, from moral disapproval of the practice,” and that “moral disapproval alone cannot sustain” a ban restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

From the judge’s decision:
“Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts. Those who enter opposite-sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage.”

The judge’s decision:
“We are thrilled that these loving and committed couples will soon have the same protections and security for their families that other married couples have,” stated Daniel Tilley, the ACLU of Florida’s staff attorney for LGBT rights. “Florida’s refusal to recognize their marriages serves no legitimate purpose and is hurtful to Florida families. We’re very pleased to see the ban held unconstitutional in such unequivocal terms so that all Florida families will soon finally have the same protections.”

“SAVE is pleased as a plaintiff in the ACLU’s marriage recognition lawsuit to have received a favorable ruling in court today,” stated SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima. “We are overjoyed that the judge ruled on the side of fairness by ordering the state of Florida recognize the legal marriages of the plaintiffs. SAVE will continue to make the case that it is Florida’s responsibility to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples.”

Florida is now the 16th state in which a federal court has struck down a marriage ban as unconstitutional since the ACLU’s victory in U.S. v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court struck down the main provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The court’s decision was stayed, with one exception—the requirement that the death certificate of plaintiff Arlene Goldberg’s late wife, Carol Goldwasser, be corrected to list Ms. Goldberg as surviving spouse.

The plaintiffs in the ACLU of Florida’s case are represented by attorneys for the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida, as well as Stephen Rosenthal of the Podhurst Orseck law firm.

Representatives from the ACLU of Florida and SAVE as well as plaintiff couples in the case are available to speak with press at 4:15pm at the ACLU of Florida’s Main Office at 4500 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL, 33137.

Additional information about the case, including bios of the plaintiffs, is available here:

A copy of the judge’s order is available here:

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