Gay couples won't be able to tie the knot in the Keys any time soon despite a Monroe County judge's decision last week striking down Florida's voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
Siding with Attorney General Pam Bondi and courts in other states, Circuit Judge Luis Garcia on Monday refused to lift a stay on his ruling that the prohibition violates due process and U.S. constitutional protections against discrimination.
Instead, Garcia ordered a hold on his Thursday ruling to stay in place until appeals are complete or he decides otherwise. The automatic stay was prompted by Bondi's appeal, filed almost immediately after Garcia issued his ruling last week.
Mirroring other court decisions, Garcia ruled in favor of Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, two Key West bartenders who sued Monroe County Clerk of Court Amy Heavilin for refusing to grant them a marriage license.
In an emergency motion filed Monday morning, lawyers for the couple asked Garcia to order Heavilin to start issuing marriage licenses, arguing that the state has little chance of winning its appeal. Heavilin has said she would be prepared to move forward with gay marriages if the court orders her to do so, the lawyers wrote, and "couples are gathering in Monroe County today in anticipation of the issuance of marriage licenses."
Garcia's ruling on Florida's same-sex marriage ban is the latest in a string of victories for gay rights advocates since a milestone U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in the United States v. Windsor case that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Courts in 19 other states have since struck down restrictions on same-sex marriages in lawsuits sparked by the Supreme Court ruling.
"Since Windsor was decided, an unbroken wave of federal and state courts across the country have concluded that state laws barring same-sex couples from marriage violate basic due process and equal protection principles," lawyers for Huntsman and Jones wrote in Monday's motion. "The state of Florida was unable to identify even a single substantive justification for (the Florida Marriage Protection Act) before this court and is equally unlikely to succeed on appeal."
But Bondi's lawyers asked Garcia to "maintain the status quo" as other courts have done throughout the country. Both sides anticipate that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide the fate of same-sex marriage bans.
Garcia's ruling is the first court decision regarding the "Florida Marriage Protection Act," approved by 62 percent of voters in 2008. Six gay couples filed a similar lawsuit in Miami-Dade County, but a judge has not yet ruled in that case, and a separate federal case in Tallahassee is also pending.