On Tuesday, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Diana Lewis ruled against Florida's ban on same-sex marriage by recognizing the Delaware marriage of W. Jason Simpson and husband Frank Bangor, who died earlier this year.
In Bangor's will, he left his entire estate to Simpson, naming him personal representative. However, according to Florida's probate laws, a nonresident, which Simpson is, must be a spouse or blood relative to become someone's personal representative. This clause invalidated Simpson from inheriting their Boynton Beach home because state law only recognizes marriages between heterosexual couples.
The ban on same-sex marriage did not allow Bangor to be acknowledged as married on his Florida death certificate, and also prevented Simpson from being legally recognized as his spouse and personal representative.
However, in her ruling yesterday, Lewis recognized Simpson to be Bangor's spouse, stating that Florida's anti-gay marriage laws discriminated against him:
"There is no justification in denying Mr. Simpson the privilege of acting as the fiduciary, based solely on the gender and sexual orientation of his now-deceased spouse...Clearly, it was Mr. Bangor's intent that Mr. Simpson serve as his Personal Representative and inherit all of his property...Same-sex couples are entitled to respect, dignity and protection as any other spouse requesting to be a Personal Representative."
Lewis's decision to legally recognize same-sex couples is now the fourth consecutive ruling by a South Florida judge in the last 20 days to do so. Judge Lewis's decision is distinct from the rest in that it recognizes an out-of-state same-sex marriage-- a ruling State Attorney General Pam Bondi has not appealed (though she has 30 days to do so).
"I'm just very pleased that my client, who was in a committed relationship for 37 years, can have the same legal recognition that people in opposite-sex marriages have," said Andrew Fein, Simpson's attorney. "This case really addresses all the little indignities that people in same-sex relationships are discriminated against for no good and valid reason."
Though the ruling of this case only applies in the context of probate law and in Palm Beach County, some LGBTQ rights activists wonder whether same-sex couples could obtain marriage licenses from the county clerk Sharon Bock since there is no stay and Judge Lewis legally recognized the same-sex couple. However, Bock could easily cite Florida's ban and Judge Lewis's narrow ruling.
"When it comes to the uncertainty, I think there needs to be clarification," said David Zaret, 27, an LGBTQ rights activist. "I hope a couple takes a chance and goes to the clerk's office to find out. By doing so, they could end up showing the world their love."
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