On January 6, 2014, the state of Florida began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As a resident of Florida, it saddens me that it took this long for the legal system to finally allow all couples the basic right to celebrate their love and commitment to each other, regardless of sexual orientation.
Florida is the 36th state to allow gay marriage, and with the 19.9 million people currently living in the state, 70% of the nation’s population now lives where same-sex couples can legally be married. The road leading to this day was fraught with political and religious fighting and narrow-minded arguments against this “assault on the sanctity of marriage.”
Below is a brief timeline of the events that led us to where we are today.
- In 2008, the voters of Florida passed a constitutional amendment banning any marriage that did not consist of “one man and one woman.” The ballot measure passed with 62% of the vote.
- In 2009, James Brenner and Charles Jones were married in Canada. After moving to Florida, they were considered single under Florida law. The couple filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage because the ban prevented Brenner from listing Jones as his spouse when enrolling in the state’s retirement plan.
- On August 21, 2014 U.S. District Judge Robert Lewis Hinkle found the ban to be unconstitutional and issued an injunction preventing the state from enforcing said ban. He also issued a stay of injunction to allow for three other cases to be resolved that were awaiting writ of certiorari before the Supreme Court, plus 91 days. In the following months, arguments were made on both sides of the issue.
- On October 6, 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court denied writ of certiorari to all three of the other cases, thus starting the 91 day countdown per Judge Hinkle’s stay of injunction.
- On December 16, 2014, the law firm Greenberg Traurig , who represents the Florida Association of Court Clerks, advised the clerks of the court across the state that only Washington County was allowed to issue same-sex marriage licenses because that was the only county specifically listed in the case Judge Hinkle ruled on. They further advised that any other clerk of the court would be subject to criminal prosecution for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
- On January 1, 2015 Judge Hinkle clarified that his order applied to all 67 counties in the state, putting an end to the debate.
- On January 6, 2015 same-sex couples across the state rejoiced as they were finally allowed to marry.
There are still those who oppose the idea of same-sex marriage, and several counties have ceased conducting wedding ceremonies for any couples at their courthouses altogether, as a way to avoid having to officiate a same-sex ceremony. Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi, is still pursuing appeals at both the state and federal levels. But, as Judge Hinkle stated in his ruling:
The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same-sex marriage are struck down. Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts. 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.
At the end of the day, the world is still spinning, the sun is still shining, and a subset of our population is finally allowed to choose who they wish to spend the rest of their lives with and receive the same benefits of that commitment the rest of the population enjoys. Congratulations to all of the newlyweds!