Same-sex marriage in Florida

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the U.S. state of Florida since January 6, 2015, as a result of Brenner v. Scott, the lead case on the issue. In this case, a U.S. district court ruled the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional on August 21, 2014. The order was stayed temporarily; state attempts at extending the stay failed, with the U.S. Supreme Court denying further extension on December 19, 2014.

Furthermore, a state court ruling in Pareto v. Ruvin allowed same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses in Miami-Dade County on the afternoon of January 5, 2015. In another state case challenging the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, a Monroe County court in Huntsman v. Heavilin stayed enforcement of its decision pending appeal and the stay expired on January 6, 2015.

The state banned same-sex marriage by statute in 1977 and added a prohibition on the recognition of marriages from other jurisdictions in 1997. Voters approved a constitutional amendment that banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions in 2008. The state also imposed criminal penalties on any court clerk who issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

Statutory ban[edit]

In 1977, following the success of the Save Our Children campaign in overturning a gay-rights ordinance in Miami, the state enacted legislation banning same-sex marriage as well as adoption by homosexuals.[1] State Senator Curtis Peterson, sponsor of the legislation, said it was designed to say "we are tired of you and wish you would go back in the closet."[2]

In 1997, the Florida Legislature overwhelmingly adopted its own Defense of Marriage Act, which states marriage is the "union between one man and one woman" and bars the state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. Governor Lawton Chiles said: "I believe that, by and large, most Floridians are tolerant and will one day come to view a broader range of domestic partnerships as an acceptable part of life. But, that is not the case today." The bill became law without his signature.[3]

According to a legal opinion provided to the Florida Court Clerks' Association in December 2014 in anticipation of an injunction in the case of Brenner v. Scott, a clerk who grants a marriage license to a same-sex couple faces criminal penalties, a legal provision it called "apparently unique" to Florida.[4] Penalties can include fines as high as $1,000 and up to a year in prison.[5]

Repeal efforts[edit]

In August 2017, Senator Gary Farmer filed a bill (SB 130) to repeal the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage.[6] A similar bill (HB 6027) was introduced by Representative David Richardson in November 2017.

Responses to San Francisco same-sex weddings, 2004[edit]

The San Francisco 2004 same-sex weddings prompted a flurry of similar attempts at same-sex marriage in Florida. On February 25, Attorney Ellis Rubin filed suit in Ft. Lauderdale's Broward County Court on behalf of 170 gays and lesbians who sought the right to marry. The suit, brought against Broward County Clerk Howard Forman was, according to Ft. Lauderdale's NBC news affiliate, "believed to be the first formal legal challenge to the state law specifying that marriage licenses be issued only to parties consisting of one male and one female."[7]

The city of Key West passed a symbolic resolution in support of same-sex marriage. Organizers of a new White Ribbon Campaign for equality launched an effort on March 16 at the Key West City Commission meeting to emphasize the discrepancy between simultaneously extolling freedom and banning same-sex marriages.[8] On March 18, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio signed an order, effective the following year, extending health benefits to domestic partners of city employees.[9] On March 18, eight same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses. A deputy clerk at the Orange County Courthouse denied them. Several then participated in a union ceremony sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of Orlando.[10] On March 22, gay and lesbian couples gathered in Gainesville at the Alachua County Courthouse and elsewhere around the state as they attempted to obtain marriage licenses and were turned away.[11]

Constitutional amendment[edit]

On November 4, 2008, voters approved Florida Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state. A 60% approval rate was required to adopt the amendment; 62% of voters voted in favor.[12]

In 2013, Get Engaged and Equal Marriage Florida were formed, two organizations dedicated to overturning the constitutional amendment in the 2014 elections.[13][14]


Two courts have ordered state officials to recognize a specific marriage established outside of Florida, a federal court in Brenner v. Scott[15] and a state court in Estate of Bangor.[16]

Federal court[edit]

Brenner v. Scott[edit]

On February 28, 2014, civil rights attorneys filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on behalf of a Florida same-sex couple who married in Canada. The case, Brenner v. Scott, was assigned to Judge Robert Lewis Hinkle. On March 13, 2014, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar suit, Grimsley v. Scott, in the same court on behalf of South Florida LGBT advocacy group SAVE and eight same-sex couples already married in other states asking the courts to order Florida to recognize their marriages. It named Governor Rick Scott and three other state officials as defendants.[17][18][19]

Judge Hinkle consolidated Brenner and Grimsley on April 21.[20] On August 21, he ruled that Florida's statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. His stay on the enforcement of his decision expired on January 5, 2015.[21] He also granted immediate relief by ordering the state to recognize the marriage in New York in 2011 of the late Carol Goldwasser and plaintiff Arlene Goldberg and to revise the former's death certificate to reflect that marriage.[15] The state defendants appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the case was retitled Brenner v. Armstrong. On December 3, the Eleventh Circuit denied a request to extend the stay from Hinkle's earlier ruling and the U.S. Supreme Court on December 19 rejected Florida's request with only Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting.[22]

On January 1, 2015, Judge Hinkle clarified his order after one defendant, the Washington County Clerk, inquired whether he was ordering her to issue more than the one marriage license specified in his preliminary injunction. Hinkle explained that his order applied only to the specific circumstances presented by the plaintiffs seeking relief, but that all Florida clerks should understand from his ruling that the U.S. Constitution required them to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He warned that he was prepared to add additional plaintiffs and defendants to this lawsuit and that the costs would be borne by the defendants.[23][24]

The first same-sex couples began marrying in the state on January 5, 2015 in Miami-Dade County, after a state judge lifted a stay on a July 2014 ruling in a Florida state court case (see below for more details) which struck down the ban on same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples from across the state began marrying the very next day, on January 6, 2015, which was the first day after Judge Hinkle's stay in the Brenner case expired.[25]

More than a year after same-sex marriage began in Florida, Judge Hinkle issued a ruling that declared Florida's voter-approved amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage unconstitutional. On March 31, 2016, Judge Hinkle of the Northern District Court issued a final injunction order in the Brenner case, affirming the unconstitutionality of the now defunct constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage in the state and clarifying the state Government's requirement to treat same-sex couples equal in all aspects of Florida law. Judge Hinkle rejected the state's argument that summary judgment would be moot on the basis that the state Government had shown little, if any, inclination to accept and follow the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which was decided in June 2015.[26][27]

State court challenges to ban on same-sex marriage[edit]

Outcome of same-sex marriage cases in Florida in state courts
  Same-sex marriage legal
  Judicial ruling against same-sex marriage ban, stayed pending appeal
  Same-sex marriage banned prior to federal court decision

Early state lawsuits[edit]

In 2001, after the initial dismissal of the lawsuit, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled in Frandsen v. County of Brevard that the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples did not violate the state Constitution's equal protection for gender classifications.[28]

Pareto v. Ruvin[edit]

On January 21, 2014, six same-sex couples, some of whom have children or grandchildren, filed a lawsuit in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in and for Miami-Dade County challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs allege an Equal Protection violation of their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The suit was organized by Equality Florida. It named Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin as defendant because his office had refused to issue marriage licenses to the couples.[29][30]

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel held a hearing in the case on July 2 and granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on July 25. She found that Florida's same-sex marriage ban and related statutes deprive couples due process and equal protection of the laws as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. She noted that under Florida Supreme Court precedent she needed to apply rational basis review to laws discriminating against homosexuality, but suggested the Florida Supreme Court revisit the question of the appropriate level of scrutiny on appeal. She stayed enforcement of her decision pending appeal.[31] She lifted that stay on January 5, 2015, ordering Miami-Dade County to issue licenses to same-sex couples, which county officials began doing around noon that day.[32]

Huntsman v. Heavilin[edit]

On April 1, 2014, plaintiffs Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones filed suit in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit in and for Monroe County against the county clerk Amy Heavilin, after they were denied a marriage license.[33] Chief Judge Luis Garcia held initial hearing in the case, Huntsman v. Heavilin, on July 7.[34]

On July 17, Judge Garcia ruled in favor of the plaintiff same-sex couple overturning Florida's ban on same sex marriage. The judge, in declaring that Florida's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, found that marriage is a fundamental right and that same-sex marriage can not be construed as a "new right". He found Florida violated the plaintiffs rights under both the due process clause and the equal protection clause. He found the plaintiffs lacked standing to raise the question of the recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. He ordered Monroe County to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning July 22, 2014.[35] Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a notice of appeal with the state Third District Court of Appeal the same day, which stayed enforcement of Garcia's ruling.[36] Judge Garcia denied the plaintiffs' request to have the stay lifted, as did the Court of Appeal on July 23.[37] On January 6, 2015, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones were married at 12:01 on the Monroe County Court Steps, witnessed by millions on CNN, Fox News and local Miami news stations.

Consolidated cases[edit]

On July 28, the appellee same-sex couples asked the Third District Court of Appeal to exercise "pass through" jurisdiction and allow the case to be heard directly by the Florida Supreme Court.[38] On October 13, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the Third District Court of Appeal to pass the consolidate case to the Florida Supreme Court, as the other party had earlier proposed.[39]

State court lawsuits seeking recognition of specific marriages[edit]

Estate of Bangor[edit]

Francis C. Bangor was a Pennsylvania resident who owned a winter home in Boynton Beach, Florida. Bangor and his spouse, William Simpson, entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2001 and married in Delaware in October 2013. Bangor died on March 15, 2014. He left a will that named Simpson as his executor, which Florida calls Personal Representative. Florida law requires a non-resident Personal Representative to be a relative of the decedent. Circuit Judge Diana Lewis held a hearing at which Simpson testified to his 37-year relationship with Bangor. The state Attorney General was not represented. On August 5, she ruled that Simpson was entitled to be recognized as Bangor's surviving spouse, and that Florida's constitutional and statutory provisions prohibiting this recognition were unconstitutional as applied to this case. Lewis did not stay her order as three other circuit courts had in same-sex marriage cases. She issued Letters of Administration to Simpson, making Simpson and Bangor's marriage the first same-sex marriage recognized in Florida.[40]

Shaw v. Shaw[edit]

On January 15, 2014, Mariama Shaw, a Tampa woman who had married her wife in Massachusetts, filed a petition for dissolution of her marriage in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in and for Hillsborough County, Florida.[41] Shaw was seeking to have the state recognize her same-sex marriage for the purpose of granting a divorce. The spouses then entered into the collaborative divorce process, came to a full settlement agreement, and presented that agreement to the judge to ratify as part of a final judgment of divorce. After hearing arguments, the trial judge dismissed the petition of dissolution of marriage, and the parties appealed.[42] On August 27, on a 10 to 3 vote, the judges of the Second District Court of Appeal asked the Florida Supreme Court to settle the case, Shaw v. Shaw.[43] The Supreme Court rejected that request on September 5.[44]

Brassner v. Lade[edit]

Heather Brassner asked a state court to dissolve a civil union she entered into with Megan Lade in Vermont in 2002. On August 4, 2014, Broward County Circuit Judge Dale Cohen ruled that Florida's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples and refusal to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions was unconstitutional. He stayed implementation of his decision allowing the divorce for 30 days pending appeal.[45] Attorney General Bondi said the state did not appeal because it was not a party to the case, and Cohen scheduled a final divorce hearing for September 11. Beyond the one divorce, his ruling did not direct local officials to take any action, but the Broward County Clerk, Howard Forman, said he would decide during the week of September 7 whether to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on Cohen's ruling.[46] Before the final divorce hearing, Judge Cohen vacated his earlier ruling because Brassner's attorney had only notified the Attorney General of the constitutional challenge by email rather than certified mail as required by Florida law.[47] The Attorney General was properly served, and then intervened,[48] and Cohen reissued his order on December 8.[49] The judge issued his final judgment in the case on December 17, 2014, allowing the first same-sex divorce in Florida to be granted.

Public opinion[edit]

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in Florida
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 4,374 ? 61% 30% 9%
Public Religion Research Institute May 18, 2016-January 10, 2017 6,076 ? 58% 32% 11%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 4,917 ? 53% 37% 10%
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20-October 1, 2014 5,689 likely voters ± 1.7% 46% 40% 14%
Quinnipiac University April 23–28, 2014 1,413 registered voters ± 2.6% 56% 39% 5%
Public Policy Polling January 16–21, 2014 591 primary voters ± 4% 47% 44% 9%
Public Religion Research Institute November 12-December 18, 2013 261 ± 7% 57% 37% 6%
StPetePolls August 1–2, 2013 3,034 registered voters ± 1.8% 46.3% 46.9% 6.8%
Quinnipiac University December 11–17, 2012 1,261 registered voters ± 2.8% 43% 45% 12%
The Washington Post September 19–23, 2012 925 registered voters ± 4% 54% 33% 13%
Public Policy Polling May 31-June 3, 2012 642 voters ± 3.9% 42% 45% 13%
Public Policy Polling June 16–19, 2011 848 voters ± 3.4% 37% 53% 10%
Strategic Vision 2005 1,200 Florida voters ± 3% 34% 54% 12%
Schroth & Associates March 3–4, 2004 800 registered voters ± 3.5% 27% 65% 8%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Askew signs bill to ban gay marriage". Boca Raton News. June 9, 1977. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  2. ^ "New Florida Laws Prohibit Same-Sex Marriage, Adoption". Toledo Blade. June 8, 1977. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  3. ^ Michael J. Kamotz, "For Better or For Worse: A Critical Analysis of Florida's Defense of Marriage Act," Florida State University Law Review, III. C., Vol. 25, No. 2 (Winter 1998). Retrieved February 3, 2014
  4. ^ "Greenberg Traurig Memorandum, December 15, 2014". Miami Herald. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  5. ^ Rothaus, Steve (December 22, 2014). "Lawyers, activists: Greenberg Traurig wrong advising clerks not to issue same-sex marriage licenses". Miami Herald. Retrieved December 23, 2014.
  6. ^ New Legislation Would Officially Abolish Florida's Outdated Gay Marriage Ban
  7. ^ "Gay couples in Florida sue for marriage". The Advocate. February 26, 2014. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  8. ^ Key West supports gay marriages
  9. ^ Varian, Bill (March 12, 2004). "Tampa offers benefits to same-sex couples". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  10. ^ Schneider, Mike (March 19, 2004). "Eight gay couples refused marriage licenses in Orlando". Florida Times Union. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  11. ^ Monday, March 22, 2004
  12. ^ Brunn, et al, eds., Stanley D. (2011). Atlas of the 2008 Elections. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 258.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  13. ^ "Equality Florida, Freedom to Marry launch 'Get Engaged' effort to repeal state's gay-marriage ban". The Miami Herald. June 19, 2013.
  14. ^ "Brito files to begin statewide petition drive, hoping to end Florida's gay-marriage ban in 2014". The Miami Herald. June 21, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Sweeney, Dan (August 21, 2014). "Same-sex marriage ban struck down in Florida federal court". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  16. ^ Duret, Daphne (August 5, 2014). "Palm Beach County judge declares gay marriage ban unconstitutional". Palm Beach Post. Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  17. ^ Schoettler, Jim (March 3, 2014). "Jacksonville civil rights attorneys challenge Florida laws refusing to recognize same-sex marriages". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  18. ^ "Couple files federal lawsuit challenging Florida's ban on same-sex marriage". LGBTQ Nation. March 6, 2014.
  19. ^ Rothaus, Steven (March 13, 2014). "Eight gay couples sue Florida to recognize their legal marriages". Miami Herald. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  20. ^ Hinkle, Robert (U.S. District Judge) (April 21, 2014). "Order Setting a Partial Schedule and Consolidating the Cases, Brenner v. Scott, No. 4:14-cv-107" (PDF). U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
  21. ^ Snow, Justin (August 21, 2014). "Federal judge rules Florida same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional". Metro Weekly. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  22. ^ Snow, Justin (December 19, 2014). "Supreme Court allows Florida same-sex marriages to proceed". Metro Weekly. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  23. ^ Rothaus, Steve (January 1, 2014). "Federal ruling clears way for same-sex marriage in Florida, starting on Tuesday". Miami Herald. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  24. ^ Geidner, Chris (January 1, 2015). "Federal Judge In Florida Says "Constitution Requires" Same-Sex Marriages Beginning Jan. 6". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  25. ^ "Judge Lifts Ban, and Gay Weddings Begin in Florida". The New York Times. January 5, 2015.
  26. ^ Kirsten M. Clark (March 31, 2016). "After Florida officials' defiance, federal judge affirms gay marriage ban is unconstitutional". Tampa Bay Times.
  27. ^ Dara Kam (March 31, 2016). "Federal judge closes books on Florida gay marriage ban". News4Jax.
  28. ^ Frandsen v. County of Brevard
  29. ^ Man, Anthony (January 21, 2014). "Lawsuit seeks to overturn Florida ban on gay marriage". Florida Sun Sentinel. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
  30. ^ Rothaus, Steve (March 13, 2014). "Married gay couples sue Florida for recognition". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  31. ^ Decision, accessed July 25, 2014
  32. ^ Mazzei, Patricia; Rothaus, Steve (January 5, 2015). "Ruling by Miami-Dade judge allows same-sex marriages to begin in Florida". Miami Herald. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
  33. ^ Rothaus, Steve. "Gay Key West men sue for right to marry in Florida after Monroe clerk's office denies couple a license". Miami Herald. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
  34. ^ Staff Reports (July 7, 2014). "Key West couple's challenge to Fla. same-sex marriage ban goes to court". LGBTQ
  35. ^ Luis M. Garcia, Circuit Judge (July 17, 2014). "Order on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, Huntsman v. Heavilin, No. 2014-CA-305-K" (PDF). Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. LGBTQ
  36. ^ Johnson, Chris (July 17, 2014). "Judge rules for marriage equality in Florida Keys". Washington Blade. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  37. ^ Lagoa, Barbara; Emas, Kevin; Fernandez, Ivan, Judges of the District Court of Appeal (July 23, 2014). "Order on Motion to Vacate Stay, Florida v. Huntsman, No. 14-1783". Florida Third District Court of Appeal.
  38. ^ Vigil-Farinas, Elena; Restivo, Bernadette; Reilly, Jessica; Hampton, Thomas (Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellees) (July 28, 2014). "Appellees' Suggestion for Rule 9.125 Certification of Appeal to Florida Supreme Court, Huntsman v. Heavilin, No. 14-1783". Florida Third District Court of Appeal.
  39. ^ Rothaus, Steve (October 13, 2014). "Bondi: Let Florida Supreme Court decide same-sex marriage now". Miami Herald.
  40. ^ Rothaus, Steve (August 5, 2014). "Florida must recognize gay widower's Delaware marriage, Palm Beach judge rules". Miami Herald. Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  41. ^ Anton, Leonora (March 24, 2014). "Tampa couple's divorce could challenge same-sex marriage ban". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  42. ^ Cordover, Adam (May 10, 2014). "Tampa Same Sex Divorce Dismissed by Trial Judge; Parties to Appeal". ABC Family Law Blog. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  43. ^ Stutzman, Rene (August 27, 2014). "Appeals court asks Florida Supreme Court to take up the issue of gay marriage". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  44. ^ Rothaus, Steve (September 5, 2014). "FL Supreme Court: Won't hear gay marriage case until after appellate court rules". Miami Herald. Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  45. ^ Brydum, Sunnivie (August 5, 2014). "Judge: Florida Must Recognize Out-of-State Marriages A third GOP-appointed stat". The Advocate. Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  46. ^ Rothaus, Steve (September 4, 2014). "Pam Bondi doesn't appeal Broward judge's ruling that Florida gay marriage ban is unconstitutional". Miami Herald. Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  47. ^ Rothaus, Steve (September 9, 2014). "Broward County judge vacates gay marriage ruling, says state wasn't properly notified". Miami Herald. Retrieved September 28, 2014.
  48. ^ Kendall, Jonathan (September 23, 2014). "South Florida Lesbians Challenge Gay Marriage Law: 'We Are Not Second-Class Citizens'". Broward/Palm Beach New Times. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  49. ^ "In Re Marriage of Brassner and Lade (Florida state court) Order granting petitioner's motion for declaratory judgment. Filed December 8, 2014". 17th Judicial District Circuit Court. Retrieved December 8, 2014.

External links[edit]