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A Florida judge has ruled the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, but it doesn't mean same-sex nuptials can occur in the Sunshine State just yet.
Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia on Thursday ruled in favor of Aaron R. Huntsman and William Lee Jones after they applied for and were denied a marriage license in April. Judge Garcia's ruling overturned the state's prohibition on gay marriage, but it may not take effect until Tuesday, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
Does this mean Florida will soon be the 20th state to allow gay marriage?
Florida passed the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment (Amendment 2) in 2008, which passed by a margin of nearly 2 million votes. Like many similar state gay-marriage amendments, it defined legal marriage as between a man and woman, and refused to recognize the legal status of anything other than opposite-sex marriage.
And like many other state marriage bans, in his decision in Huntsman v. Heavilin, Judge Garcia found that Florida's same-sex marriage prohibition violated both due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Garcia explained he could find no rational basis for the state's laws other than traditional disapproval of same-sex couplings, which thanks to Windsor and the cases that preceded it, is not a legitimate reason to uphold the law.
Since Judge Garcia is a state circuit judge, his decision may only apply in the 16th Circuit -- Monroe County, which comprises the Florida Keys, making this ruling a festive but ultimately limited one.
However, court records indicate that the State of Florida filed a notice of appeal shortly after the issuing of Judge Garcia's ruling on Thursday. According to the Florida Supreme Court, the filing of a notice of appeal by a public body acts as an automatic stay pending appeal. This means that unless Judge Garcia vacates the stay, same-sex marriage will be unavailable in Monroe County while the case is appealed.
The situation is very similar to what occurred in New Mexico, where a state court legalized gay marriage in several counties before the state's Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in the entire state.
Regardless of whether marriages occur on Tuesday, Judge Garcia's ruling does not touch Florida's refusal to recognize out-of-state gay marriages.
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