A federal appeals court has cleared the way for same-sex couples to begin marrying in Florida next month.
On Wednesday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from state officials to extend a hold on an August ruling that struck down Florida's same-sex marriage ban. The move means that gay and lesbian couples can begin marrying in the Sunshine State on Jan. 6 unless the Supreme Court steps in.
Marriage equality got off to a staggered start in Florida this summer, with state judges overturning the ban in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties. Then on Aug. 21, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle issued the first federal ruling that struck down Florida's 2008 marriage amendment — which allowed only heterosexual couples to legally wed, and prevented state officials from recognizing same-sex marriages performed anywhere else. Hinkle, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, stayed the effects of his ruling until the end-of-day on Jan. 5 to give the state's Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi time to appeal.
Last month, Bondi asked the 11th Circuit to extend that stay for the duration of the appeals process. But the court denied that request Wednesday in a five-sentence order. Bondi is now expected to ask the Supreme Court for a stay — something the justices have agreed to do in Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia, but declined to do more recently in Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, and South Carolina.
If the Supreme Court refuses to extend the stay, Florida will become the 36th state to legalize marriage equality.
"We are thrilled that the 11th Circuit has denied the state's request to delay marriages in Florida," said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, in a statement. "Every day of delay is another day of harm experienced by thousands of loving and committed same-sex couples in Florida. Now it's time to break out the wedding bells."