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Case Challenging Florida's Marriage Ban Moves Forward

Ileana Ortiz

   A federal appeals court has refused to extend past January 5 a stay in the ruling that declares unconstitutional Florida's ban on gay marriage.

In August, Tallahassee Federal Judge Robert Hinkle joined a number of other judges, in ruling that the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, approved by Florida voters in 2008, violates the equal protection clause of the U.S.  Constitution. He said next month’s deadline is adequate for appeals to be considered, before any same-sex marriage licenses are issued.

Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.

If the appeals court were to reverse Hinkle's decision, the date would become irrelevant. Attorney Gen. Pam Bondi, whose office is reviewing the decision, has said she wants to court to do just that.

“I’m continuing my stance to get it to the Florida Supreme Court as soon as possible,” said state Attorney General Pam Bondi. “We’re waiving appellate courts in order to have finality, and save the taxpayers money.”

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said Wednesday that it would consider the case on an expedited basis. One of the state's options would be to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to extend the stay past the date, as appeals are pending.

“I think it’s a giant leap. We still have a long way to go, but this is certainly a huge, huge step forward,” said Sarah Latshaw with the Northwest Florida ACLU. However, she and other supporters remain cautiously optimistic.

Most federal appeals courts have adopted a view similar to that of Judge Robert Hinkle, except for a recent decision by 6th Circuit in Cincinnati. That court upheld bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

It's unclear when the 11th Circuit will rule on the substance of the state's appeal. Ultimately it will likely take the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the issue nationally, especially since now there’s a split among the circuit courts.