A federal judge in Florida joined a growing list of jurists on Thursday who have struck down state bans on same-sex marriages.
US District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in favor of 10 same-sex couples seeking to have their out-of-state marriages formally recognized by Florida officials and on behalf of one same-sex couple who sued to obtain a marriage license.
Same-sex marriages are banned in Florida by both state statute and a constitutional amendment.
But the Tallahassee-based judge ruled that the Florida marriage regulations violate a fundamental right to marry without regard to sexual orientation. Judge Hinkle also ruled that the provisions violate equal protection guarantees of the US Constitution.
The judge postponed implementation of his ruling pending the lifting of similar stays issued by the US Supreme Court in other same-sex marriage cases.
Hinkle made one exception. He ordered Florida officials to immediately amend Carol Goldwasser’s death certificate to list her 47-year partner, Arlene Goldberg, as her spouse on the state-issued document.
The couple was married in New York in 2011, but Florida refused to recognize the union as legitimate, even after Ms. Goldwasser’s passing in March.
In noting that he was making an exception to his stay order, Hinkle said: “There is no good reason to further deny Ms. Goldberg the simple human dignity of being listed on her spouse’s death certificate.”
With his ruling, Hinkle became the 16th federal trial judge to strike down a state ban on same-sex marriage or a state’s refusal to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state.
All those decisions are under appeal. Two appeals courts, the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Richmond, Va.-based Fourth Circuit, have affirmed lower court decisions striking down marriage bans.
The cases are now beginning to arrive at the Supreme Court for a potential final examination of the same-sex marriage issue, perhaps as early as next year.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages, while 31 states ban such marriages by statute, constitutional amendment, or both. Lawsuits have been filed challenging the bans in all 31 states.
“The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same-sex marriage are struck down,” Hinkle wrote. “Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts.”
The judge added: “Those who enter opposite-sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage. Tolerating views with which one disagrees is a hallmark of civilized society.”
Like other states across the country, Florida has become a battleground over same-sex marriage. Three state judges – in Key West, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale – have struck down Florida’s ban. Two other state courts – in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale – have upheld the bans.
In his ruling, Hinkle rejected arguments by lawyers for the state who sought to justify the same-sex marriage ban on grounds of encouraging couples capable of having children to remain together in a family unit to raise their own children.
Hinkle said the argument was defeated by the fact that individuals who are deemed medically unable to procreate are nonetheless allowed to marry in Florida.
“The undeniable truth is that the Florida ban on same-sex marriage stems entirely, or almost entirely, from moral disapproval of the practice,” he wrote.
The US Supreme Court, the judge noted, has rejected reliance on moral disapproval as a legitimate justification for laws and regulations.
Without that justification, he said, the state’s arguments could not withstand analysis.
Gay rights activists praised the judge’s decision.
"We are pleased to hear the news that a federal judge in Florida has joined an ever-growing list of jurists in striking down misguided and unfair laws denying basic rights to same-sex couples,” Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement.
“Despite the stay on the case ..., we look forward to the day when marriage equality will finally be the law of the land,” she said.
The decision came in two consolidated cases: Brenner v. Scott (14cv107) and Grimsley v. Scott (14cv138).