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Calling It “Obviously Unconstitutional,” Judge Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban in the Keys

| July 17, 2014

An image distributed by Equality Florida, the same-sex marriage advocacy organization, featuring Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who successfully challenged the gay-marriage ban in Monroe County. They can get married next Tuesday.

An image distributed by Equality Florida, the same-sex marriage advocacy organization, featuring Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who successfully challenged the gay-marriage ban in Monroe County. They can get married next Tuesday.

It was no April Fool’s: on April 1, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones went to the clerk of court in Monroe County and asked for a marriage license. Huntsman and Jones are both bartenders and live in Key West. They’d been in a relationship for 11 years. They wanted that relationship recognized and legitimized under Florida law, like that of any other married couple.

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The clerk of court turned them down. Florida law forbids same-sex marriages. And in 2008, Florida voters approved an amendment to the Constitution called the Florida Marriage Protection Act (sic.) emphasizing the prohibition.

Huntsman and Jones sued the next day in Monroe County Circuit Court, citing the 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses. The case was assigned to Judge Luis Garcia, a Jeb Bush appointee.

On Thursday (July 17), Garcia declared Florida’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment, he ruled, overrides Florida law. The ruling applies only in Monroe County. But its impact is reverberating across the state and takes its place alongside similar and systematic rulings across the nation that have declared same-sex marriage bans un constitutional in almost half the states: On July 1, Kentucky became the 19th state to either legalize gay marriage or overturn a ban.

The due process clause, Garcia ruled, “guarantees all citizens have certain ‘fundamental rights’ and that citizens have a right to ‘liberty’ from governmental intrusion and this right is guaranteed and to be protected by the United States Constitution.” Neither side, the judge said, denied that marriage is a foundation of the family and of society. Neither side disputes that the right to marry is fundamental. “The parting-of-the-ways occurs,” the judge wrote, “on whether the right to marry belongs to the individual’s choice of spouse or whether the state has the authority to dictate one’s choice in spouse to the opposite sex.”

The state does not have that right, the judge ruled. The clerk of court in Monroe must start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples by next Tuesday (July 22).

Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general, immediately appealed the decision to the Third District Court of Appeal, continuing a legal process that started in Monroe and may not end until the Florida Supreme Court rules on the matter, if not the U.S. Supreme Court. Bondi, in a statement, said that “finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Marriage equality advocates are not waiting to celebrate. “This is a monumental step forward for Florida,” Nadine Smith, who heads Equality Florida, said in a statement. “Today’s historic ruling affirms what the majority of Florida residents already know to be true: All couples and their families deserve to be treated equally by their government.”

Equality Florida is organizing celebrations in a dozen cities tonight. The two Key West men’s lawsuit was modeled after a lawsuit Equality Florida filed on behalf of six gay couples in Miami-Dade County, and that is still awaiting a judge’s decision.

Huntsman and Jones argued that Florida’s ban on marriage equality cannot stand in light of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 that the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” violates the federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The judge went further, arguing that a 1975 U.S. Supreme Court decision leaving the definition of marriage to the states “is no longer binding on lower courts,” while the matter of same-sex marriage “has now become a federal question.” And he relied on the high court’s precedents to support the argument that the right to marry does not depend on government, but on individual desire.

“The right these plaintiffs seek is not a new right, but is a right that these individuals have always been guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” the judge wrote. “Societal norms and traditions have kept same-sex couples from marrying, like it kept women from voting until 1920 and forbid (sic.) interracial marriage until 1967.”

Garcia went further: The Supreme Court, he wrote, explained in a previous decision “that every generation defines its own freedom and that our present laws may be judged by future generations as oppressive and obviously unconstitutional. The same way we now look at laws that forbade interracial marriage, or excluded homosexuals from entering the country, or kept women from voting, or kept black children from going to school with white children or that the U.S. imprisoned Japanese-Americans, on U.S. soil, in camps during WWII.” (The odd syntax is the judge’s own.) Fundamental rights, the judge wrote, citing another precedent, “may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no election.”

Monroe County Same-Sex Marriage Decision

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10 Responses for “Calling It “Obviously Unconstitutional,” Judge Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban in the Keys”

  1. Gia says:

    The disgrace of america.

    • Derply McDerpenstein says:

      If two people getting married is you definition of the “disgrace of america” you might want to seriously reevaluate your priorities.

    • John Smallberries says:

      I agree, this is THE disgrace of america, and it is just going to open to doors to more reprehensible behavior. The next thing you know coloreds will be able to marry white women and they might even be allowed to vote.

  2. Well... says:

    Oh but they look so threatening in that picture. Hide your children, hide your husbands, hide your dogs…

    Congrats to them. My friends went out of state to get married so maybe this is the next step in having them recognized as a legally married couple in their home state. I keep telling people, us heterosexuals are doing a darn fine job destroying the “sanctity of marriage” that we need to stop using GLBT people as scapegoats. Live your own life and stop worrying about your neighbor. They shop at Publix like we do, go to Walgreens, go to the doctor, restaurants and may even be the ones taking care of you. Grow up, let people make their own choices. If you don’t like it or like them, then leave them alone I am almost certain they will not be seeking you out just to ruin your day/life/existence.

  3. orphan says:

    @ Well… said!

  4. Diana L says:

    Two people getting married, the disgrace of America? I can give you examples of the disgrace of America, and it doesn’t even come close to this. We need to mind our own business and if you don’t like it,don’t marry a same sex partner. The only real job we have in our lifetime is to love people unconditionally and make a positive impact everyday. Equality is a no brainer and it should extend to gender, race, religion, etc. We have some growing up to do. It can’t come soon enough. CREATE a great day.

  5. Ron says:

    “Live and let live” is what I say!

    Bondi needs to untwist her panties and quit pandering to the religious right.

  6. blondee says:

    Oh just let ’em get married and be as miserable as everyone else!

  7. Sherry Epley says:

    Right On Diana and Ron!

    Anyone who sees this as a “disgrace of America” needs to pay attention to the real problems of the USA. Little things like lagging far behind in education, the widening gulf between ultra rich and poor, a massively shrinking middle class, climate change, a lack of good jobs which lead to successful careers, an obstructionist Congress, racism, chauvinism, an out of control gun culture, worshiping the all mighty buck instead of caring for fellow humans, a failing prohibition of “pot” which keeps our prisons full, a lack of ethics and integrity in our leaders, a lack of mental health services, corporations having the same rights as citizens, massive corruption caused by lobbyists/PACS, voter supression . . . etc. etc.

    Also, exactly which America is smugly being referred to. . . South America, Central America, or maybe the part of North America also called Canada?

  8. Jack says:

    If everybody would just “Mind their own business” we would all be better off. John had better get caught up with the fact that whites can marry colored and they also can vote!

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