Locally, gay marriage ruling brings excitement
Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 5:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 7:38 p.m.
Members of the LGBT community in Gainesville received the news of the Circuit Court ruling that overturns the state's ban on gay marriages with excitement, celebrating with an impromptu gathering Thursday evening at the United Church of Gainesville.
"We've done many holy unions here. We look forward to the moment when we we can perform legal wedding ceremonies here as well," said Shelly Wilson, senior minister at United Church of Gainesville, a 700-member congregation that has recognized and supported same-sex unions since 1991.
About 35 people attended the event, celebrating with cake and champagne.
"I am so excited you cannot imagine," said Terry Fleming, co-president of the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida.
Circuit Judge Luis Garcia ruled that the 2008 state ban is unconstitutional and issued an injunction that the Clerk of Courts in Monroe County must begin issuing marriage licenses Tuesday.
But Attorney General Pam Bondi said Florida has sole authority to define marriage within the state, and that the voters' will must be respected. The referendum amended Florida's constitution to define marriage as a union solely between one man and one woman.
Bondi's immediate notice of appeal creates an automatic stay that likely puts any same-sex marriage licenses on hold well past Tuesday, according to her office.
The ruling applies only to Monroe County for now but could have significant ramifications for the other cases being heard in Florida and across the nation.
"It is the first step in the ultimate overturning of the ban, which we know is going to happen," Fleming said.
Currently, getting married in Florida is not an option because of the state constitutional ban, forcing many committed same-sex couples to travel out of state to get married.
Fleming and his partner traveled to Washington, D.C., in May to get married, but they would have preferred being able to get hitched here.
"It was difficult for us to travel out of state to get married when our families and friends live here," Fleming said. "We're very much looking forward to the day when marriage is allowed in Florida."
Darren Hutchinson, a law professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and a constitutional scholar, said that because Judge Garcia's ruling doesn't rely on state law, "courts in other circuits around the state are not compelled to follow it."
But given the number of federal and state court rulings that have invalidated these types of laws, he said, "most of the judges in the other cases will likely reach the same conclusion and could even cite Judge Garcia's ruling."
One federal case from Utah seems destined to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, Hutchinson said. "When the Supreme Court decides this issue, courts presiding over pending cases in Florida and elsewhere will have to follow this new precedent."
In Florida, everything is on hold while Bondi appeals.
"An appeals court would first consider the legitimacy of the injunction," Hutchinson said. "Many appeals courts have stayed rulings favoring marriage equality until the appeals processes have terminated," he said.
On the one hand, he said, such a stay could help avoid the confusion that would result if people entered into same-sex marriages during the appeal and the higher court reverses the lower court's ruling.
On the other hand, same-sex couples who want to get married are being harmed by the state's unconstitutional prohibition, Hutchinson said. "A court in this situation would have to weigh the harms to both sides and try to reach an equitable or reasonable outcome," he said.
An appellate ruling for the plaintiffs would definitely have more value as precedent. "It would constitute an enormous legal victory for gay and lesbian rights in Florida," Hutchinson said. "Potentially, this issue could reach the Florida Supreme Court. The court would have to apply U.S. constitutional law as well."
Donn Smith, an IT analyst at UF Health Shands, said he and his partner are waiting for the day they can get married in Gainesville. "We're Floridians. We want to be married in Florida," Smith said. "I can't wait for that day when I can go down to my courthouse and get a license, and talk to my ministers about our ceremony."
LB Hannahs, director of LGBT Affairs at UF, said the ruling is a sign of progress in the state judicial system.
"The law has proven to be discriminatory through social progress, now it's clear that our judicial system is catching up with the ways in which people live and love," Hannahs said.
"Marriage is a marker of social progress, but there are also many, many issues that affect our lives that deserve just as much attention," Hannahs said. "Marriage for all is inevitable."