Updated: 5:00 p.m. EDT
KEY WEST, Fla. — A judge in the Florida Keys has overturned the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage after a legal challenge by six gay couples said it effectively made them second-class citizens.
The ruling by Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia applies only to Monroe County — the only county over which he has jurisdiction — which primarily consists of the Keys.
In his ruling, Garcia ordered the Monroe County Clerk to stop enforcing Florida’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, saying that licenses should begin being issued to same-sex couples on July 22.
“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,” wrote Garcia, in his decision.
“The Constitution guarantees and protects all of its citizens from government interference with those rights. All laws passed 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 historical piece of paper.”
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 comes in a challenge filed in April by Aaron Huntsman, 43, and William Lee Jones, 42, a same-sex couple from Key West, Fla.
The lawsuit contended that the same-sex marriage ban approved by voters in 2008 violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. The judge says licenses could be issued starting Tuesday.
Article continues belowSeveral Democratic politicians, including gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, had nothing but praise for the judge’s decision. “This is a great step toward equality in Florida,” Crist said via Twitter.
Gay marriage opponents condemned it: “This disrespects just under 5 million voters and effectively disenfranchises them. It shows no regard for the rule of law or the constitution,” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which led the referendum campaign in 2008.
Along with a similar lawsuit pending in Miami-Dade, two additional challenges are pending in a federal court in Tallahassee seeking to force Florida to allow same-sex marriage and recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Case archives: Huntsman v. Heavlin.
Developing story. This report will be updated.