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Broward County judge delivers third win for marriage equality in Florida

Broward County judge delivers third win for marriage equality in Florida


Updated: 5:15 p.m. EDT

A third judge in Florida has overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in a single county but stayed his decision Monday pending an appeal.

The ruling by Broward County Circuit Judge Dale Cohen mirrors decisions made last month by judges in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties. All found that a 2008 voter-approved constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state violates gay residents’ right to equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

“The tides are turning on the issue of same-sex marriage throughout this country,” Cohen wrote.

Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a notice of appeal in the Monroe and Miami-Dade cases.

No marriage licenses will be issued for gay couples in any of the three counties, pending appeals.

Heather Brassner, who wants to dissolve a civil union with an estranged partner in Vermont in 2002, petitioned for divorce in Broward County. Because Florida does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, there was a question as to whether Cohen could grant the divorce.

Brassner’s attorney, Nancy Brodzki, said her client was elated by Cohen’s “thoughtful, eloquent decision.” Brodzki said she expected Bondi to appeal this ruling as she has the other two before it. The attorney general’s spokeswoman released a statement Monday saying Bondi’s office would review the ruling.

In his ruling, Cohen wrote that, “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, to deny individuals tax credits, marital property rights, the ability to dissolve their unions from other jurisdictions 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.”

Gay-marriage opponents have said the rulings overturning the same-sex marriage ban would disenfranchise nearly 5 million voters in the state – the 62 percent who approved it. Repealing the amendment would require at least 60 percent support.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has said he supports the gay-marriage ban amendment but opposes discrimination. His top Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, supports efforts to overturn the ban.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow gay people to marry. Bans that have been overturned in some other states continue to make their way through the courts.

Florida has long been a gay-rights battleground. In the 1970s, singer and orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant successfully campaigned to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays. The county commission reinstated those protections two decades later.

In 1977, Florida became the only state prohibiting gay people from adopting children. A state court judge threw out that law in 2008, finding “no rational basis” for it. Two years later, the state decided not to appeal, making gay adoption legal.

A separate lawsuit is pending in Tallahassee federal court seeking to overturn the gay marriage ban statewide, and to force Florida to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The ruling is here.

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