Gay Couples Can Now Get Married in Florida. But Only in the Keys.

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Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
July 17 2014 3:22 PM

Gay Couples Can Now Get Married in Florida. But Only in the Keys.

109448330-the-sun-sets-behind-the-old-railway-bridge-in-the-bahia
The wedding photos will be beautiful. The sun sets behind the old railway bridge in Florida's Bahia Honda State Park.

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, Florida Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia invalidated Florida’s gay marriage ban, holding that the state’s anti-gay constitutional amendment violates the U.S. Constitution. Garcia’s tart 14-page opinion describes marriage as a fundamental right protected by the 14th Amendment’s due process clause—and finds that denying that right to gay people violates equal protection guarantees. Ignoring the “animus” behind the law and allowing the ban to stand, Garcia notes, would reduce the Constitution to “just a historical piece of paper.”

This is great news for those (like me) who lived through the trauma of Amendment 2, Florida’s version of Prop 8, and couldn’t imagine marriage equality reaching Florida before the middle of the century. But it’s not quite time to start celebrating—unless you happen to live in the Keys. As a circuit judge, Garcia’s jurisdiction is severely limited, and his ruling only applies to Monroe County, which stretches from the Everglades to the tip of the Keys. So while Key West should get the party started posthaste, mainland Floridians have little reason to cheer.

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They will soon, though. The Monroe County lawsuit was one of three gay marriage lawsuits currently pending in the state, and marriage advocates are pretty confident they’ll win the other two. One of those cases found its way to U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle’s docket. If Hinkle, a Clinton appointee, strikes down the ban, his ruling will apply to the whole state. At that point, the state’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, will have to decide whether to request a stay and appeal the ruling. Bondi, who has been married two or three times, has struggled mightily to find an anti-gay argument that passes the smirk test, and she may be tempted to abandon this whole debacle after Hinkle rules. That surrender, of course, would bring marriage equality to the sunshine state for good. 

Update, July 17, 2014: Bondi has now appealed the ruling and suggested that she will appeal any future pro-gay rulings as well.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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