Broward Circuit Court Judge Dale Cohen on Monday became the third judge in less than a month to strike down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. But just as in the previous two cases, actual marriages between gay and lesbian couples will have to wait.
The judge ruled on a legal question that arose in the divorce of Heather Brassner from Megan Lade. The two were granted a civil union in Vermont in 2002 but separated in 2010.
Brassner wished to divorce Lade, but since Florida does not recognize same-sex marriage, there was a question as to whether the judge could grant a divorce. So, instead, Cohen ruled on the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban.
"To discriminate based on sexual orientation, to deny families equality, to stigmatize children and spouses, to hold some couples less worthy of legal benefits than others based on their sexual orientation," Cohen wrote, "is against all that this country holds dear, as it denies equal citizenship. Marriage is a well recognized fundamental right, all people should be entitled to enjoy its benefits."
Brassner hugged her new girlfriend, Jennifer Feagin, upon hearing Cohen read his ruling in a courtroom at the Broward County Courthouse.
"It's what I was hoping to happen," Brassner said. "Now, we get ready for the appeal, I guess."
Cohen granted an automatic stay of his ruling pending an appeal by the state. State Attorney General Pam Bondi has already appealed two previous decisions overturning the state's same-sex marriage ban, one in Monroe County and another in Miami-Dade.
"We expect that this is going to take time," said Nancy Brodzki, Brassner's attorney. "We are confident that the Florida Supreme Court, when it finally gets to rule in this case, is going to rule in exactly the same way that Judge Cohen ruled."
However, neither the Brassner case nor the other two lawsuits is the first to get to the appeals stage. A case in Palm Beach County, Dousset v. Florida Atlantic University, is already before the court of appeals. As with Brassner, the Dousset case hinges on whether the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in areas where they are legal, as opposed to the Monroe and Miami-Dade cases, the crux of which is whether Florida must grant same-sex marriages to gay and lesbian couples who live in Florida.
The state must respond in the Dousset case by Aug. 20. But in the meantime, the Brassner case was the first of its kind in Broward County.
"This was a big step forward for Broward," Brodzki said. "I think that it is entirely possible, maybe even likely, that the Florida Supreme Court will allow all of these cases to skip the Court of Appeals."
Whether or not the court of appeals will allow the Brassner case to bypass the court and go straight to the state Supreme Court -- a process called pass-through jurisdiction -- lawyers in the Miami-Dade and Monroe cases have already asked the court of appeals to do so for them.
Brodzki also raised the possibility that her case may be consolidated with the Monroe and Miami-Dade cases. Lawyers in those two cases have already filed motions asking for the cases to be consolidated.
For Brassner, while the divorce is still far off, the judge's ruling today was its own victory.
"I'm prepared to do whatever I need to do to bring equality here," she said. "It's not just about me."