Broward County

Attorney General Pam Bondi asks Broward judge not to lift stay in Florida gay marriage ruling

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Friday formally asked Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen to keep in place a stay of his Aug. 4 ruling declaring the state’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional.

The judge has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday in which he could grant a final divorce to a lesbian couple who obtained a civil union 12 years ago in Vermont.

“The Attorney General respectfully suggests that the Court continue with its stay in place until resolution of the appeals previously referenced in its order as well as other appeals in cases raising similar issues,” Bondi’s office wrote in Friday’s filing to the judge. The move came four weeks after Cohen declared Florida’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, and told Heather Brassner he would recognize — and then dissolve — her 2002 civil union with Megan Lade.

Brassner, of Lake Worth, broke up with Lade four years ago, and says her ex has been missing ever since.

Nancy Brodzki, who represents Brassner, believes the appeal period ended last Wednesday for Cohen’s ruling on the constitutionality of Florida’s gay marriage ban. The judge said in his Aug. 4 ruling that because he found the ban unconstitutional he has the authority to recognize the same-sex union and grant Brassner a divorce.

“Because this is a constitutional issue, the state had a right to appeal if it wanted to, because a judge declared a law unconstitutional,” Brodzki said. “The problem is they didn’t appeal the final declaratory order. That was an appealable non-final order.”

Bondi’s office sharply disagrees.

“That’s inaccurate because the appropriate time to appeal a ruling is when the final order is entered. The time frame for filing an appeal begins when the final order is entered,” said Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Meale, referring to the moment Brassner’s divorce would become final if the judge orders it on Wednesday.

Another point of disagreement: Bondi’s office believes that if Cohen finalizes Brassner’s divorce, the Broward county clerk’s office will not be allowed to issue marriage licenses to other gay couples who want to wed. “The ruling only applies to the private parties,” Meale said.

County Clerk Howard Forman said Thursday his office is researching the issue and hasn’t decided yet whether the judge’s granting of a divorce would obligate his office to perform same-sex marriages.

A third point of contention: Brodzki said Bondi’s office has “no standing” to ask Cohen to keep his stay in place.

“They did not file a motion to intervene, they are not a party,” Brodzki said. “If you’re not a party, you don’t get to file pleadings in somebody else's case. That’s pretty basic.”

Bondi’s office declined to comment why it hadn’t intervened in the Brassner case as it did in separate Miami-Dade and Monroe County gay marriage lawsuits: “We are monitoring all these cases,” Meale said.

Also Friday, Florida’s Supreme Court said it would not hear a lesbian couple’s divorce case in Tampa until after a state appeals court makes a ruling.

“We decline at this time to accept jurisdiction of the appeal,” said the Supreme Court, responding to a recent request from the Second District Court of Appeal.

Last month, the Second DCA in Central Florida asked the Supreme Court to hear the case of Mariama Monique Changamire Shaw and Keiba Lynn Shaw, a lesbian couple married in Massachusetts in 2010, who are now seeking a divorce in Tampa.

Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Laurel Lee refused to grant the couple a divorce because state law bans same-sex marriages. The Shaws' attorneys appealed the case to the second DCA. The appeals court then agreed 10-3 to “pass through” the case to the Supreme Court, in hopes it would decide the fate of Florida's gay marriage ban once and for all.

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