Tuesday, October 23, 2018
News Roundup

Same-sex marriages in Florida could begin Jan. 6 after appeals court decision

Same-sex couples in Florida could begin marrying next month, after a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a stay in the state's gay-marriage ban case will be lifted at the end of the day Jan. 5.

In a two-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta turned down a request by Florida's secretaries of health and management services and the clerk of the court in the Panhandle's Washington County to extend the stay. A federal judge based in Tallahassee ruled in August that the state's gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional, but stayed his decision until Jan. 5 to give the state time to appeal.

"This is a clear victory for us because it finds the harm is being done to the people, not the state," said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which is representing same-sex couples from throughout Florida and gay-rights group SAVE, who sued to have out-of-state same-sex marriages recognized in the Sunshine State.

"It means that relief is finally in sight for the same-sex married couples suffering under Florida's refusal to recognize their legal unions," SAVE executive director Tony Lima said in a statement.

On Aug. 21, U.S. Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee threw out the gay-marriage ban in Florida's Constitution — which was approved by 62 percent of voters in 2008 — calling it "an obvious pretext for discrimination."

"Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts," Hinkle wrote at the time. "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." He stayed his decision to give Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi time to appeal.

Bondi then asked the appeals court — which has yet to set a date to hear the case — to keep the stay in place past Jan. 5 until the court decides on the merits.

"We are reviewing the ruling," Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Meale wrote Wednesday in an email to the Miami Herald.

John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which supported the 2008 constitutional amendment, blasted the court decision.

"The court today is wrong," he said. "The court was also wrong years ago in Dred Scott when it ruled that blacks were not persons. The courts will never have the final word on an institution as fundamental to the human experience as marriage. You simply cannot build a civilization without natural marriage."

Ron Saunders, attorney for Monroe County Court Clerk Amy Heavilin, said the office is ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"We've been ready," Saunders said. "We've had to change the vows from husband and wife, made sure everyone knew the procedures. . . . We're ready to do whatever is legal."

On July 17, Monroe Circuit Judge Luis Garcia ruled that Key West plaintiffs Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones should be allowed to wed. Their attorney, Bernadette Restivo, said Wednesday that Huntsman and Jones are "planning a Jan. 6 wedding in the heart of Key West."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement that Wednesday's ruling "is a very good sign that Florida's same-sex marriage ban appears headed for the ash heap of history."

Daniel Tilley, an LGBT rights attorney at the ACLU, said in a statement that the appeals court ruling "rejected the state's argument that allowing same-sex couples to marry and have their marriages recognized will cause harm to the state and refused to make these families wait any longer."

"The court effectively ruled that the state does not have a likelihood of succeeding in its appeal," Tilley said. "The stories of the individuals represented in our case demonstrate that Florida's ban on marriages for same-sex couples hurts Florida families, and we are hopeful that that harm will finally be coming to an end soon."

Miami Beach lawyer Elizabeth Schwartz co-represents six same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute who successfully sued in Miami-Dade Circuit Court for the right to marry. "While this isn't a final order in the federal case — both the federal appeal and the our state appeal will continue to proceed — this is a huge step forward for fair-minded Floridians,'' she said. "We expect marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples statewide Jan. 6.''

Jorge Isaias Diaz and partner Don Price Johnston of Miami, two plaintiffs in the Equality Florida case, say they'll probably wed after the stay is lifted.

Diaz, whose brother is former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, said he would have no hard feelings if his case isn't the one that breaks Florida's ban. "The bottom line is that we achieved whatever we wanted to achieve, that is to get married," he said. "I'm thrilled and I'm pleased because we did what we set out to do."

Same-sex couples throughout Florida sued to dismantle the state's gay-marriage ban. In addition to the cases in federal and Miami-Dade circuit courts, same-sex couples prevailed in Monroe and Palm Beach counties. Bondi filed state appeals in all cases. A Broward case, in which a lesbian won the right to divorce her same-sex domestic partner, was vacated on a legal technicality and will be retried.

After Bondi lost her bid to keep the federal stay in place, the national group Freedom to Marry said she could seek a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, but that the high court is unlikely to grant it because it has already denied similar requests for stay extensions in South Carolina, Alaska, Idaho and Kansas.

So far this year, same-sex marriage became legal in 18 additional states, bringing the total to 35, plus Washington, D.C.

Wednesday's decision in Atlanta was written by three 11th District judges: Frank M. Hull of Atlanta, Charles R. Wilson of Tampa and Adalberto Jordan of Miami. President Bill Clinton appointed Hull and Wilson to the 11th Circuit in 1997 and 1999, respectively; President Barack Obama appointed Jordan in 2012.

Miami federal appeals attorney Richard Klugh, who is not involved in the case, agreed with Simon, Tilley and Wasserman Schultz that the three judges' ruling signals what could happen if and when the full 11th Circuit hears the case.

"At this point, at least, it's a good indication the state has not established a strong likelihood of success. That is not surprising given the trend in the law nationally," Klugh said. "It's fair to say the court was not satisfied that the state's position is likely to prevail."

Comments
Hernando school board affirms firing of ex-superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school board affirms firing of ex-superintendent Lori Romano

After the former superintendent appealed her firing, the board had to decide whether it acted properly back in June.
Updated: 0 minutes ago
Canadian Mounties assist in child porn case against Hillsborough Community College professor

Canadian Mounties assist in child porn case against Hillsborough Community College professor

TAMPA — A Hillsborough Community College math professor is facing child pornography charges after federal agents said he exchanged illicit images online, according to a criminal complaint.Howard Joseph Vorder Bruegge III was arrested Tuesday at his e...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Deputies release name of Tampa mother and son killed in weekend double homicide

Deputies release name of Tampa mother and son killed in weekend double homicide

TAMPA — Deputies have released the names of the mother and her 10-year-old son who were fatally shot in a double homicide on Sunday.Stephanie Ann Willis, 34, and son Ricky Willis were killed in their home at Mariner’s Cove apartments by Willis’ live-...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Man fatally shoots stepfather, then himself in Tampa apartment, deputies say

Man fatally shoots stepfather, then himself in Tampa apartment, deputies say

TAMPA — A woman concerned that she hadn’t heard from her husband came home Tuesday to find that her adult son had killed the man and then himself, authorities said.Juan Luis Hernandez II, 30, shot himself after first killing his stepfather, Michael E...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs rookies embrace ‘being a kid again’ at community event

Bucs rookies embrace ‘being a kid again’ at community event

TAMPA — M.J. Stewart proudly wore a pink feather boa picked out for him by a new friend. Carlton Davis and Ronald Jones wore sparkly party hats. Alex Cappa walked around with a star sticker on his forehead. Shaun Wilson and Jordan Whitehead com...
Updated: 1 hour ago
There were two fatal wrong-way crashes last weekend. Should we be worried?

There were two fatal wrong-way crashes last weekend. Should we be worried?

A Pinellas Park man made a U-turn on the Howard Frankland Bridge on Friday, driving in the wrong direction for several miles before crashing into a van. The wrong-way driver died at the scene.Two days later, a Seffner man with his headlights off drov...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Will the trade winds blow for the Bucs?

Will the trade winds blow for the Bucs?

TAMPA — The New Orleans Saints are going for it. That was the consensus of NFL analysts after they traded for Giants cornerback Eli Apple Tuesday.The Dallas Cowboys aren't going away. At 3-4 and winless on the road this season, owner/general ma...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Pinellas substitute teacher brings a gun to school, and is escorted out

Pinellas substitute teacher brings a gun to school, and is escorted out

Police removed a substitute teacher from Largo’s Anona Elementary School on Tuesday after discovering he was in possession of a gun, according to the Pinellas County school district.In a call to parents, principal Ann Welsh said the substitute, ident...
Updated: 2 hours ago
From FitzMagic to Red Tide, 6 very Florida Halloween costumes

From FitzMagic to Red Tide, 6 very Florida Halloween costumes

We’re here to help you put together costumes that portray sweaty life in the Sunshine State, with its stench of fish and cast of unforgettable characters.
Updated: 3 hours ago