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Florida judge strikes down same-sex marriage ban

A Florida judge on Thursday declared it unconstitutional for the Monroe County clerk to deny gay couples marriage licenses on Thursday.
Valerie Torres and Lisa Pole, holds hands as they hope that a Miami judge would over turn the ban on same sex marriages, during the court hearing on gay marriage in Miami, on July 2, 2014.

Marriage equality has officially reached the southernmost point of the continental United States.

A Florida judge declared it unconstitutional Thursday for the Monroe County clerk to deny gay couples marriage licenses. The ruling struck down Florida’s 2008 ban on same-sex nuptials, but only in Monroe County, which covers the Florida Keys.

Two more rulings are expected at any moment in the Sunshine State -- one that would apply only to Miami-Dade County and another that would have statewide impact from a federal judge in Tallahassee. Unlike the Monroe and Miami-Dade suits, which only name the county clerks as defendants, the federal case seeks to stop all state officials from enforcing the ban.

Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia said Thursday that gay couples could begin marrying on Tuesday.

“This court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and the rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority,” Garcia concluded in his 14-page opinion.

Sixty-two percent of voters enacted the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage six years ago. Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum argued that Garcia should respect the will of the majority. According to WTVJ, state officials are planning to appeal Garcia's ruling. 

The case was filed on behalf of Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, two Key West bartenders who have been together for 11 years. The couple sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavlin in April for denying them a marriage license.

Though the ruling only compels clerks in Monroe County to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses, Miami attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, who is representing plaintiffs in the Miami-Dade suit, anticipates Thursday's decision will have broader implications.

"The state will have to recognize those marriages in Monroe County," Schwartz told msnbc. "Other fair-minded county clerks will probably start issuing marriage licenses voluntarily, even though they aren't bound by Judge Garcia's decision today."

By Tuesday, Florida will be the 21st state where gay and lesbian couples can wed. Last week, a Colorado judge said it was okay for clerks in the Centennial State to continue issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, even though Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage is technically still in place.