A ruling from a Florida judge declaring the state’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional is being hailed as not only a major blow to the law, but as a sweeping defense of the constitutional right to gay-marriage.
“It’s a beautiful opinion,” Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, one of the plaintiff in the case, told the Miami Herald. The judge “states so clearly and so powerfully that marriage is a fundamental right and that denial is a violation of our constitutional rights and our dignity.”
In 2008, 62 percent of the state's voters approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Friday's ruling was the second time this month that a Florida court has ruled the ban is unconstitutional.
The case was brought on by six same-sex Miami couples who sued the county clerk for marriage licenses. In the 36 page opinion, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel invokes major events in American history — ranging from slavery, to Jim Crow, to the Declaration of Independence and the plight of Native Americans.
Some of the highlights from the opinion:
"In 1776, our Nation’s Founders went to war in pursuit of a then-novel, yet noble, goal: the creation of a government that recognizes its people are “endowed . . . with certain inalienable rights” and that all are equal in the eyes of the law. THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, para. 2 (U.S. 1776). Unfortunately, history shows that prejudice corrupted the implementation of these ideals and that the corrective wheels of justice turn at a glacial pace. Slavery, for instance, plagued this nation from the time of its birth, and it took a bloody civil war, nearly one hundred years later, to break free from this malady.
Segregation, though, took slavery’s place, and it was not until the 1960s that we rid ourselves of this similarly horrible disease. Women too, had to fight for equality, and it was not until 1920 that they were first able to vote. Nevertheless, like race, it was not until the social unrest of the 1960s that gender equality had any meaning. The Native Americans also faced rampant discrimination until the 1960s and 1970s as well.
Notably absent from this protracted march towards social justice was any progress for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community until quite recently. However, as evidenced by the avalanche of court decisions unanimously favoring marriage equality, the dam that was denying justice on this front has been broken."
On similarity to ban on interracial marriages
"The Supreme Court has never analyzed whether a fundamental right to marry exists by defining the right to include only those who are not being excluded from access to that right. Most obviously, in Loving v. Virginia, the Court did not inquire whether ‘interracial marriage’ was a basic civil right, but instead identified ‘marriage’ as the basic civil right at issue and examined whether a State could deny that right to people who wished to marry someone of another race."
On Florida's gay marriage ban
"A state’s constitution cannot insulate a law that otherwise violates the U.S. Constitution. The United States Constitution would be meaningless if its principles were not shielded from the will of the majority."
Gay-marriage ban supporters reacted as you would expect.
“Wow,” John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council in Orlando, who also led the 2008 campaign to amend the state constitution, told the Miami Herald. He especially took offense to the judge's citation of Loving v. Virginia, the case that overturned a ban on interracial marriage.
“Race and ethnicity are not an inherent property of marriage. Gender, however, is an inherent property of marriage," he said. "This is why her reliance on Loving is misplaced. Loving in essence said any man can marry any woman irrespective of race and ethnicity.”
In a statement about a similar ruling in the Florida Keys earlier this month, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi said that "with many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court." Her office has already filed an appeal to the decision.
Judge Zabel gave her take on how the issue will play out in her ruling:
"The flood of cases that have come out since Windsor (the case that struck down DOMA) amply demonstrates this truth as not one court has found a same-sex marriage ban to be constitutional," she wrote. "As case after case has come out, unified in their well-reasoned constitutional condemnation of the deprivation of one class of person’s right to marry, the answer to the question of whether it is constitutionally permissible to deprive same-sex couples of the right to marry has become increasingly obvious: Of course it is not."
"The Court, therefore, foresees a day when the term 'same-sex marriage' is viewed in the same absurd vein as 'separate but equal' and is thus forsaken and supplanted by ordinary 'marriage.'"
Read the full opinion here.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.