After a staggered start, marriage equality has officially prevailed across the Sunshine State.
On Thursday, a federal judge struck down Florida’s 2008 marriage amendment -- which allows only heterosexual couples to legally wed, and prevents state officials from recognizing same-sex marriages performed anywhere else. The ruling, issued by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle -- a President Bill Clinton appointee -- follows state judge decisions that overturned the ban in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties. Unlike those rulings, however, which came from courts with limited jurisdiction, Hinkle’s decision applies to the entire state.
"Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts,” wrote Hinkle in his 33-page opinion. “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."
Hinkle also drew a connection between the gay rights and civil rights movements.
"To paraphrase a civil rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was struck down, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice," he said, referencing a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Florida is the 16th state to see its same-sex marriage ban fall in federal court since last year’s landmark Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ruling, which cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to begin receiving spousal benefits from the U.S. government. It also opened up the floodgates to nearly 100 state and federal challenges against the remaining same-sex marriage bans. Many on both sides of the debate now believe this legal momentum will lead the Supreme Court to soon take up one of these cases, and possibly legalize marriage equality throughout the nation.
Though Judge Hinkle spoke forcefully against Florida’s ban in his ruling, he did issue a stay delaying the effects of his order pending appeal. That means that gay and lesbian couples are still barred from receiving marriage licenses in the state.
Still, plaintiffs were thrilled with the decision.
"I am overjoyed that the state we made our home in will soon recognize that what Carol and I had was marriage," said Arlene Goldberg of Ft. Myers in a statement. Goldberg sued the state seeking recognition of her marriage to Carol Goldwasser, her wife and partner of 47 years, who recently passed away.