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Citing ban on gay marriage, judge refuses to grant divorce to same-sex couple

A Hillsborough County judge ruled against a same-sex couple seeking a divorce Friday, setting up an appeal of the state law that bars same-sex marriage.

Circuit Judge Laurel M. Lee dismissed the divorce petition of Mariama Monique Changamire Shaw, 47, and Keiba Lynn Shaw, 45, who married in Massachusetts on Feb. 5, 2010. The women live in Tampa and filed for divorce in January.

In March, attorneys attempted to hold an uncontested divorce hearing and file the couple's collaborative divorce marital settlement agreement.

After hearing arguments April 22, Lee ruled that she could not grant a divorce for a marriage that is not legal in this state. She cited Florida's 2008 constitutional amendment:

"Inasmuch marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."

Brett Rahall, attorney for Changamire Shaw, said his client would appeal to the Second District Court of Appeal, setting up what may be the first official challenge to the state law.

They argue that the divorce does not violate the marriage ban since it would eradicate the marriage and that the marriage ban violates the equal protection clause of the Florida and U.S. Constitutions.

The Shaw case would not be the first divorce to challenge a marriage ban in the United States. The Wyoming Supreme Court did not strike down its marriage ban but made it legal for all couples to divorce. In Missouri last month, a county judge granted a divorce even though that state bars same-sex unions.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.