Florida Same-Sex Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

Judge Sarah Zabel of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court has ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage in Florida is unconstitutional.

Back in May, six same-sex couples filed a motion asserting that Florida's marriage ban cannot stand in light of last year's U.S. Supreme Court of Miami-Dade ruling that the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" violates the federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Florida's ban on same-sex marriage was added to the state constitution in 2008.

Every court in the U.S. that has looked into these constitutional claims has ruled in favor of same-sex couples' right to marry.

On Friday, Judge Zabel ruled in concert with those other courts,while staying the order pending appeal.

Zabel had began presiding over the case of Pareto v. Ruvin on July 2. The plaintiffs in the case said they were seeking the legal protections and overall equality that nongay married couples have.

"Today's decision affirms the fundamental principles of equality and fairness and the common humanity of gay and lesbian people," said plaintiff Catherina Pareto via a release following the ruling. "As the Court recognized, these families are part of Florida's community, and equal protection requires that they be given the same legal protections and respect as other families in this state. The Court's ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case, but for everyone who cares about freedom and fairness. It means so much for a court to recognize our family and say that we must be treated equally. We love this state and want nothing more than to be treated as equal citizens who contribute to the community and help make Florida an even better place for everyone who lives here. Today's ruling means that we can finally have the same legal protections as other married couples and the security of knowing that our family is legally secure."

Meanwhile, proponents of the ban on same-sex marriage, such as Florida Family Policy Council's John Stemberger and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, remain outspoken against overturning the ban.

Stemberger, founder of Trail Live USA, the antigay alternative to the Boy Scouts, is spoke before Judge Zabel on July 2 on behalf of keeping the ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution. He was also key in getting the ban into the constitution in the first place.

Stemberger has called the fight for same-sex rights "a political movement that is an in-your-face, intolerant, attitude agenda."

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bondi, who appealed Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia's ruling against the state's ban on same-sex marriage in Key West this week, is expected to appeal this ruling as well.

Bondi recently made comments that overturning the ban on same-sex marriage would "impose significant public harm."

On Thursday, six same-sex couples hand delivered 7,000 petitions with signatures from Floridians demanding Bondi drop her appeal

"Today's ruling is a victory for thousands of couples who have been denied access to marriage," Equality Florida Institute Chief Executive Officer Nadine Smith. "It is a victory for children who have longed for the day when their families would be respected equally under the law. And it is a victory for all Floridians who share the values of fairness and equality under the law. We applaud Judge Zabel for her decision. No matter the legal path ahead, we will continue to fight until the day we all have the right in Florida to marry the person we love."

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph