From our media partner Sun Sentinel: It took state Attorney General Pam Bondi just two hours Thursday to appeal a Monroe County judge's ruling that the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.
For now the judge's decision — which would be binding only in the Florida Keys — is on hold while the case goes before the Third District Court of Appeal.
While a ruling from that court could take months, those judges could opt to permit gay marriages in the Keys while it hears the case. And regardless of their decision, the issue is almost certain to wind up in the Florida Supreme Court.
Monroe Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, who heard arguments in the case on July 7, said the 2008 decision by Florida voters to ban gay marriage weighed on his mind.
"This court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country's proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and the rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority," he wrote. "All laws passed whether by the legislature or by popular support must pass the scrutiny of the United States Constitution, to do otherwise diminishes the Constitution to just a historic piece of paper."
Todd and Jeff Delmay, plaintiffs in a similar Miami-Dade case, hailed his decision at a rally in Wilton Manors.
"It's another crack in that big wall that's holding us back," said Todd Delmay, who legally changed his name to match his partner's. "Today was certainly very exciting. It's the first major step. We still don't know our ruling. For us, we're in this until the end."
But Florida Family Policy Council president John Stemberger called the ruling "entirely illegitimate."
"His decision basically disrespects and disenfranchises about 5 million Florida voters who voted to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman," he said.
Garcia's ruling comes in response to a lawsuit by Key West bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin after she refused to grant the couple a marriage license.
But the decision is just the first of what may become a cascade of Florida court rulings on gay marriage in the coming days.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel heard arguments July 2 from six same-sex couples who live in that county and want to get married. Her ruling is expected any day.
The same is true in Tallahassee, where U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle is mulling whether to order Washington County's clerk of courts to issue two men a marriage license and whether to require Florida to grant the same rights to same-sex couples wed elsewhere as it grants to heterosexual married couples.
Additionally, a lawsuit against Florida Atlantic University in Palm Beach County is asking the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That case is already in the appeals stage.
"County courts aren't statewide. We need one of these appellate decisions, either mine or this one, to come forward and create a statewide effect," said George Castrataro, the lawyer in that case. "I think that's the most important next step."
In other states in which gay marriage bans have been overturned, the decision has invariably gone to a higher court. California in 2008 passed a state constitutional ban that a federal court overturned in 2010. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed that decision to go forward in June 2013 in its Hollingsworth v. Perry ruling.
That ruling is one of two that underpin Garcia's decision, along with the Supreme Court's striking down of part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Bernadette Restivo, one of the lawyers for the Monroe County couple, said her team was moving forward.
"We'll be conferring with attorneys from Equality Florida and finding how to proceed," she said as she drove to a planned celebration on Duval Street in Key West.
Restivo said she had a sense her side would win when Garcia asked "a couple of pointed questions of our opponents, and they weren't explaining their side very well. Florida allows homosexuals to adopt, Florida allows homosexuals to use assisted reproduction to conceive, but it wasn't allowing these children to be in an intact family. We argued there was no rational relationship there."
According to Mary Meeks, a lawyer in the Miami-Dade case, it was the successful push for a state amendment banning gay marriage in 2008 that spurred gay and lesbian activists to get organized and push back.
"That's when our community kind of felt gut punched and woke up and really got engaged and started to fight," she said. "I think we've had the momentum on our side ever since."
If Garcia's ruling is enacted, Florida will become the 20th state to allow same-sex marriage.
Staff writer Emily Miller contributed to this report.
From our media partner Sun Sentinel