LGBTQ South Florida

Broward judge again declares Florida gay marriage ban unconstitutional

Heather Brassner and new partner Jennifer Feagin at the Broward County Courthouse on Aug. 4, 2014, after Circuit Judge Dale Cohen originally ruled Florida’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.
Heather Brassner and new partner Jennifer Feagin at the Broward County Courthouse on Aug. 4, 2014, after Circuit Judge Dale Cohen originally ruled Florida’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. MIAMI HERALD FILE

A Broward judge who last summer declared Florida’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional, then vacated his own order on a legal technicality, on Monday again ordered that a woman should be allowed to divorce her same-sex partner.

“It’s exactly Aug. 4 all over again,” said Broward attorney Nancy Brodzki of Brodzki Jacobs & Associates, who represents Heather Brassner, a Lake Worth art dealer seeking to dissolve a 2002 Vermont civil union with her now-estranged partner, Megan Lade.

On Aug. 4, Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen became the third South Florida judge in 18 days to declare Florida’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional, following judges in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties. Since then, a Palm Beach County and a federal judge in Tallahassee also have ruled against the ban, which Florida voters passed in 2008.

The day before Cohen was set to finalize the Brassner-Lade divorce, the judge discovered that state Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office had not been legally notified about the challenge to the gay-marriage ban, which also prohibits recognition of same-sex civil unions. On Sept. 9, Cohen vacated his own order and canceled the divorce hearing.

Brodzki refiled the case and notified Bondi, who immediately wrote to Cohen that “if this Court reaches the constitutional issues, it should uphold the challenged laws because Florida’s marriage laws do not violate the United States Constitution.”

Bondi is likely to appeal Cohen’s final divorce order, which could come as soon as next week, Brodzki said.

Even if Bondi appeals the Broward decision — as she did in the Monroe, Miami-Dade and federal cases — the issue could soon be moot, Brodzki acknowledges. Last week, a federal appeals court in Atlanta told Bondi it would not reinstate a federal stay set to expire the end of Jan. 5, likely legalizing same-sex marriage in Florida the next day.

Dec. 9 update

On Tuesday, Brodzki issued the following statement:

“On December 8, 2014 Circuit Judge Dale Cohen reaffirmed his ruling from August 4 and declared both Florida's statutory and constitutional bans on same sex marriage and recognition thereof void, unenforceable and unconstitutional laws. As lead trial attorney for Heather Brassner, we are immediately applying to Judge Cohen for a hearing to have a Final Judgment of Dissolution entered by his Honor. That hearing should take place before the end of the year. We will all wait to see the effect of the federal stay expiring on January 5, 2015 to determine the next step for Ms. Brassner and other gay and lesbian Floridians who want to get divorced and/or get married. If the Attorney General and the Governor continue to fight these rulings, we expect that they will appeal Judge Cohen's final judgment to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach. We will then immediately ask that the Fourth DCA send the case directly to the Florida Supreme Court as a question of great public importance. We will continue to fight on behalf of the freedom to marry and the right to have those marriages recognized until we are all treated equally under the law.”

Same-sex marriage town hall

National LGBT-rights group Freedom to Marry, with Equality Florida and SAVE, will hold a free town hall meeting to discuss what’s next for same-sex couples who want to marry or have their out-of-state marriages recognized in Florida.

▪ Speakers include: Ana Navarro, Republican strategist and CNN political contributor; Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson; Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida.

▪ Time: 6 p.m. Wednesday

▪ Where: O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St.

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