Florida's highest court is being asked to decide whether or not the state's ban on gay marriage is constitutional.
In an unusual decision, the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to settle the question due to "great public importance." If the high court takes up the case, it could result in having the issue settled even before the U.S. Supreme Court acts.
The ruling is connected to a Hillsborough County divorce case involving a same-sex couple who had been married in Massachusetts but since relocated to the Tampa area. Their petition to dissolve their marriage was rejected by a Florida judge who noted that state law does not recognize gay marriage.
"Resolution of the constitutional questions will no doubt impact far more individuals than the two involved here," states the unsigned opinion. "And there can be little doubt that until the constitutional questions are finally resolved by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court, there will be a great impact on the proper administration of justice in Florida."
A panel of judges with the Lakeland based appeals court earlier this summer rejected a request to forward the case up the state Supreme Court. But that ruling was overturned in a 10-3 decision by the entire appeals court.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked judges to stop ruling on same-sex marriage cases until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether states can ban gay marriage. But her request has not been ruled on yet. Bondi's office was not involved in the Hillsborough County case, but a spokeswoman said the ruling is being reviewed now by the attorney general.
Voters approved Florida's ban in 2008.
But judges in four Florida counties - Palm Beach, Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward- have overturned the ban. Last week a federal judge also overturned the ban. No marriage licenses have been issued so far as the cases have either been appealed or judges have issued a stay to delay the effect of the ruling.
Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions against state same-sex marriage restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year.