Great news for same-sex couples of the Sunshine State Wednesday! A U.S. district judge confirmed same-sex marriages will begin in Florida next week, despite the efforts of the Republican-led state government to thwart its institution. Judge Robert Hinkle handed down the clarification to his same-sex marriage ruling Wednesday, in response to what could reasonably be considered the office of Attorney General Pam Bondi's last-ditch effort to scuttle marriage equality. The big takeaway — on or after January 6, same-sex couples will be able to get married in Florida.
Congratulations to everyone who's worked so hard for that moment, as well as the people who had to wait longer still for the state's appeal efforts to play out. Florida's same-sex marriage ban was actually struck down months ago, in August, but with the usual stays on implementation while appeals are pending, it's taken all the way into the 2015 to actually get to the issuance of new licenses. After the Supreme Court declined to hear a spate of cases appealing overturned bans in five states, Florida included, same-sex marriage was presumed to be going into full, statewide effect.
Bondi's office attempted to inject some doubt into this at the last minute, requesting a clarification on whether Hinkle's ruling applied exclusively to the couple in question's county or to the entire state.
Responding on Thursday, Hinkle left no doubts, telling county clerks that they'd better be ready to issue those licenses.
Reasonable people can debate whether the ruling in this case was correct and who it binds. There should be no debate, however, on the question whether a clerk of court may follow the ruling, even for marriage-license applicants who are not parties to this case. And a clerk who chooses not to follow the ruling should take note: the governing statutes and rules of procedure allow individuals to intervene as plaintiffs in pending actions, allow certification of plaintiff and defendant classes, allow issuance of successive preliminary injunctions, and allow successful plaintiffs to recover costs and attorney's fees.
The state of Florida hasn't been a friendly place on this issue throughout modern American history — it adopted a state-level version of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1997, and reaffirmed that position by passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions in 2008. But now, in 2015, it's become painfully and nakedly clear that opponents of same-sex marriage have no legal leg to stand on, with court after court siding with marriage equality after the robust judicial precedent set by the Supreme Court's United States v. Windsor decision, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.
Which means, in simplest terms, that this is a very welcome turn of events, and a great way to ring in the new year for the would-be same-sex spouses of Florida. So, for anyone who's already got a January date picked out to tie the knot, congratulations! The incredible progress made on marriage equality was one of the heartening bright spots of 2014, and hopefully it's going to keep rolling along.
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