Final Ruling in Federal Challenge to Florida Ban on Same-Sex Marriages Holds State's Ban Unconstitutional
Over a year after an injunction brought marriage equality to the state, federal judge holds that continued state resistance to recognizing same-sex marriages must be stopped
TALLAHASSEE, FL – A federal judge has issued a final judgment declaring the state of Florida’s ban on marriages for same-sex couples unconstitutional. The ruling was issued in the case that brought marriage equality to Florida over a year ago.
In an order issued today granting summary judgment in Grimsley v. Scott and Brenner v. Scott, United States District Judge Robert Hinkle held that claims brought by the plaintiffs were not rendered moot by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges because Florida officials continued to resist efforts to fully recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. The order holds that bans on marriages for same sex couples in Florida’s statutes and constitution which were preliminarily enjoined in the federal court’s order that allowed marriages to go forward, are unconstitutional and must not be enforced or applied by the state.
“Today’s decision decisively affirms the right of same-sex couples to equal treatment under the law,” stated ACLU of Florida LGBT rights staff attorney Daniel Tilley. “This is a great decision that will strengthen Florida’s families. Judge Hinkle painstakingly described how Florida has resisted compliance with the Constitution’s mandate of equal treatment every step of the way. He also noted that our Florida legislature cannot escape the mandates of the constitution simply by leaving unconstitutional laws on the books.”
The ACLU of Florida represents 8 couples, a recently widowed woman, and LGBT rights organization SAVE in the federal lawsuit filed in March 2014 challenging the state’s ban. That case, Grimsley v. Scott was consolidated with another, Brenner v. Scott, which was filed by Jacksonville attorneys William Sheppard and Sam Jacobson. In August 2014, Judge Hinkle issued an injunction in both cases declaring the state’s ban unconstitutional, and marriage equality began statewide in Florida in January 2015 after the stay on that injunction expired.
In today’s order, Judge Hinkle declared that “it cannot be said that the state defendants have unambiguously terminated their illegal practices” because the state had demonstrated a “history of resistance” to recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples – including repeated refusals to acknowledge their legal losses, the refusal to issue birth certificates that recognize same-sex parents even after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, and the legislature’s refusal to take action to remove the unconstitutional language from the books. Therefore, the case was not rendered moot by Obergefell’s June 2015 holding that marriage bans are unconstitutional.
Addressing one area in particular where the state continues to resist equal recognition of same-sex couples—birth certificates—Judge Hinkle stated:
“[T]he answer should be easy. The statutory reference to “husband” cannot prevent equal treatment of a same-sex spouse. So, for example, in circumstances in which the Surgeon General lists on a birth certificate an opposite-sex spouse who is not a biological parent, the Surgeon General must list a same-sex spouse who is not a biological parent.”
“The strongly worded decision further vindicates our clients’ hard-fought battle,” stated Stephen F. Rosenthal of Podhurst Orseck, P.A., who was co-counsel in the case along with attorneys for the ACLU of Florida and the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project.
More information about the lawsuit, including bios of the plaintiffs, is available at www.aclufl.org/marriageequality
A copy of the decision is available here: https://aclufl.org/resources/summary-judgment-grimsley-v-scott/
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