Judge asked to lift Fla. Keys gay marriage stay

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A Florida Keys judge who last week ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional was asked Monday to permit gay couples to marry in Monroe County despite a pending state appeal.

The motion was filed Monday morning with Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia by attorneys for Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, a pair of Key West bartenders whose lawsuit successfully challenged the ban. Garcia ruled last week that the ban on same-sex marriage added to the state constitution by Florida voters in 2008 is discriminatory and violates gay people’s right to equal treatment under the law.

Garcia ruled marriage licenses could be issued in Monroe County beginning Tuesday to gay couples. But that was blocked by an automatic stay triggered when Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi immediately filed notice that the state will appeal.

It wasn’t immediately clear when Garcia would rule. And if the judge lifts the stay, Bondi’s office could ask the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal to reinstate it.

“In his ruling, Judge Luis Garcia confirmed that every single day these couples are denied marriage licenses, their constitutional rights are violated, and they suffer harms and risk of harms, for which they can never be compensated,”  said Deputy Director of Equality Florida Stratton Pollitzer in a statement. “Even Attorney General Pam Bondi cannot dispute the fact that allowing these couples to marry right now harms no one.  Our families have waited far too long already, and we hope Judge Garcia will lift the stay so that couples can begin obtaining marriage licenses in Monroe County immediately.

“Every day these couples are barred from marriage is a day of enormous risk to their families, and it is unfair to force them to wait months or longer while the state pursues an appeal almost certain to fail.

“Denying these couples access to marriage is a daily insult and a tremendous risk for their families,” Pollitzer added. “Imagine if a couple who has been together for decades experiences the tragedy of one partner dying while waiting for the appeal to be decided.  The damage could never be undone, and there is absolutely no harm in granting them those protections while awaiting the appeal.”

In their motion, three attorneys for Huntsman and Jones wrote that gays are suffering harm because they cannot marry in Monroe County despite the judge’s ruling and because the state is unlikely to ultimately win an appeal. Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions against state marriage limits around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“Every day that goes by, plaintiffs and other same-sex couples are being deprived of important constitutional rights and suffering additional serious, ongoing, and irreparable dignitary, legal and economic harms,” the motion says.

A Bondi spokeswoman said the attorney general’s office was reviewing the motion.

Gays have flocked to Key West since the judge’s ruling in anticipation that they could become the first group of same-sex couples to legally marry in Florida history. The Monroe County clerk’s office has already changed marriage license forms from “husband and wife” to “first spouse, second spouse.”

Lawsuits challenging Florida’s gay marriage ban are also pending in Miami-Dade County and Tallahassee federal court. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriages, with the remaining state bans all facing legal challenges seeking to overturn them.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.