Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida judge rules that gay couples can marry; state files an appeal

MIAMI — In a decision some called "the beginning of the end" of Florida's ban on gay marriage, a Monroe County judge ruled Thursday that two Key West bartenders and other gay couples must be allowed to marry.

Chief Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia ordered the county clerk's office to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples as early as Tuesday morning. In doing so, he sided with Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who argued that the ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution.

"The court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country's proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority," Garcia wrote in his opinion.

Though Garcia's order applies only to Monroe County, it would allow same-sex couples from around the state to flock to the Florida Keys to get married. Attorney General Pam Bondi, however, quickly filed a notice of appeal Thursday, putting Garcia's ruling on hold and leaving open the possibility that nothing will change next week unless Garcia forces the issue with further action.

"With many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court," Bondi said in a statement.

Despite the uncertainty, Garcia's ruling set off both a wave of celebration from Key West to Tallahassee and vows from conservative Christian groups to protect Florida's definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Meanwhile, Democrats hoped to capitalize on the ruling, with the state party chairwoman declaring Thursday that "love wins."

Huntsman and Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, said they were "ecstatic." The couple sued the Monroe County Clerk in April for a marriage license.

"I can't believe it finally happened," Jones said. "Love is love. It doesn't matter if it's a guy and woman or two women or two men. Love is love."

The couple celebrated Thursday night at Duval Street's Aqua Nightclub, where they wore rainbow sashes and held hands on a stage. A small crowd cheered and whistled — and then booed when it was announced that Bondi was appealing the ruling.

In Tallahassee, dozens gathered outside of the historic Capitol building and waved rainbow flags and signs adorned with hearts. There was no music, but some attendees were so happy they danced.

"It's hard to put into words," said Amanda James, who cried when she heard the news. "I feel free now. It's like, I'm a real person. For the first time, I have the same rights as everybody else."

In Miami Beach, Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida, which organized many of the celebrations, said the group has been fielding thousands of phone calls and messages with the same question: "Can I get married?"

Conservatives say they will do everything they can to make sure the answer remains a resounding "no," and blasted Garcia's ruling Thursday as another overreach by an activist judge.

Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition of Florida, called the ruling a "corrupt decision," and a "judicial lynching of nearly 8 million Florida voters" who voted to ban same-sex marriage in 2008.

John Stemberger, who led that 2008 campaign, said he would keep fighting.

"This is an issue worth dying for," said Stemberger, president and general counsel of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council in Orlando. "Every domestic partnership, every single civil union, every couple that co-habitates, these arrangements dilute and devalue marriage."

The Monroe County ruling is just one front in the fight over the state's gay marriage ban. Another case is pending in Tallahassee. And yet another is awaiting a ruling in Miami-Dade, where six same-sex couples and Equality Florida sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.

In both the Monroe and Dade cases, Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum argued that the judges should not dismiss Florida's constitutional gay marriage ban, which passed with the support of 62 percent of voters. The state, citing a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, contended that the definition of marriage belongs exclusively to the state and is exempt from federal scrutiny.

But in his ruling Thursday, Garcia rejected the state's position, saying changes in society and case law have made same-sex marriage a federal question. "This court concludes that a citizen's right to marry is a fundamental right that belongs to the individual," he wrote.

In Miami-Dade, Judge Sarah Zabel has yet to rule on whether to allow the plaintiffs to wed or go to trial.

The battle over gay marriage is being waged across the nation. A federal judge last week ruled Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. According to the group Freedom to Marry, LGBT advocates have won 23 times in federal, state and appellate courts since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a key portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

Last year, Supreme Court justices determined the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, but did not address whether state marriage bans are legal. Conservative activists in Florida, who campaigned six years ago for the constitutional gay marriage ban, have fought to keep it in place.

Gov. Rick Scott late Thursday issued a statement, saying he "supports traditional marriage, consistent with the amendment approved by Florida voters in 2008, but does not believe that anyone should be discriminated against for any reason."

Meanwhile, support flowed out from the state's Democratic politicians.

Bondi's opponent in the upcoming election, Perry Thurston, called on the incumbent attorney general to "stop wasting taxpayer dollars on her ideological crusade" against same-sex marriage. Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist followed with his own statement: "Today was a great step towards equality in Florida."

Crist, who held office as a Republican before becoming a Democrat in 2012, was governor when Florida passed the constitutional amendment banning the recognition of same-sex marriages. But he has since called the ban "discriminatory."

Miami Herald reporters Cammy Clark, Emma Court and Ayana Stewart and Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.

What's next?

When Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a notice of appeal Thursday, she triggered an automatic stay of Judge Luis Garcia's ruling. That means his order that Monroe County clerks begin issuing marriage licenses Tuesday will not take effect unless Garcia issues a subsequent ruling "vacating" that stay and forcing the actions under his ruling. But Miami-Dade's 3rd District Court of Appeal can extend the stay once it decides to hear the case.

More on the Web

Read the full text of the judge's ruling at

Florida judge rules that gay couples can marry; state files an appeal 07/17/14 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2014 11:04am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”