On Monday night, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a motion to the Third District Court of Appeal that the consolidated Pareto-Huntsman case, which deals with the topic of same-sex marriage, should be given a pass-through -- meaning it would skip the appeals court and go straight to the Florida Supreme Court.
Bondi once urged the Third District Court to deny the case a pass-through until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the matter of same-sex marriage. However, she changed her stance in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's (SCOTUS) decision last Monday to not hear any of the appeals against same-sex marriage.
"Florida's courts will therefore need to resolve the issue without further United States Supreme Court guidance," she wrote to the Third District Court yesterday at a 6 p.m. filing. "Because there are cases pending in multiple districts, and because this is an issue of great public importance that now warrants immediate Florida Supreme Court review, the State respectfully suggests pass-through certification."
According to Bondi, the question of whether Florida's same-sex ban ban is constitutional is "is unquestionably an important issue, and the Plaintiffs, the State, and all citizens deserve a definitive answer."
The decision by SCOTUS last week allowed the lower-court decisions to stand. This brought marriage equality to Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Indiana (and also states within their respective circuits).
On July 17, Monroe County Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia ruled that Florida's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional and ordered that Aaron Huntsman and William "Lee" Jones, a couple from Key West, had the right to marry. However, his decision was placed on a stay, which stopped couples in Monroe County from receiving marriage licenses from Amy Heavlin, the county clerk.
A week after Garcia's ruling, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel followed suit by declaring the state's ban unconstitutional, ruling in favor of six same-sex South Florida couples who are fighting to marry. Her ruling, like Garcia's, was also stayed pending appeal. In September, the Monroe and Miami-Dade lawsuits were consolidated for judicial expediency in the Third District Court of Appeal based in Miami.
Though Bondi has now given her support for a pass-through, the Third District Court must approve sending the case to Tallahassee, and the justices of the state Supreme Court will have to agree to hear the case. It remains unclear whether the high court will take up the case. In early September, the Tampa-area Shaw case was given a pass-through by the Second District Court of Appeal based in Lakeland but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case until the district court made a decision beforehand.
Still, the couples of the merged Pareto-Huntsman case are excited at the prospect of going to Tallahassee and helping to bring marriage equality to all LGBT Floridians.
"We're excited and happy for everybody in the State of Florida," Aaron Huntsman said this morning. "This is not just about us but also about the inequality of all Floridians who are currently being deprived their civil rights. We're also totally excited the Miami couples will be with us as one united force as we go to the Florida Supreme Court."
One of the Miami six couples, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, are overjoyed with Bondi's support of bringing their case directly to the FSC.
"I'm excited to see some possible movement in our case. I'm hopeful the Florida Supreme Court will see this as an important issue and take our case. I'm also hopeful we will get a positive ruling," said Vanessa Alenier, who was born and raised in the Sunshine State.
Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, hopes marriage equality will come sooner rather than later.
"Nearly two-thirds of the country now live in a state that values equality. How much longer must loving couples in Florida wait to protect their families? Now is the time for AG Bondi and Gov. Scott to step on the right side of history and not let Florida go down in history as one of the last states to uphold the principles of fairness."