LGBTQ South Florida

U.S. appeals court won’t touch Florida gay marriage case until after Supreme Court ruling

Rich Matthews and Carlos Noda kiss during a mass wedding at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale early Jan. 6, 2014.
Rich Matthews and Carlos Noda kiss during a mass wedding at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale early Jan. 6, 2014. MIAMI HERALD File

A federal appeals court in Atlanta said Wednesday it will not move forward with Florida’s gay marriage case until after the U.S. Supreme Court decides the issue nationally, probably in June.

“Marriages continue in Florida and the recognition of out-of-state marriages continue until the U.S. Supreme Court decides,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which in April 2014 sued the state in federal court on behalf of eight same-sex couples whose legal marriages elsewhere were not recognized in Florida, where voters passed a constitutional gay marriage ban in 2008.

“Another five months of marriage recognition in Florida until the Supreme Court decides. This is a really good sign,” Simon said.

On Aug. 21, 2014, U.S District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee ruled in favor of LGBT-rights group SAVE and the eight same-sex couples: Sloan Grimsley and Joyce Albu of Palm Beach Gardens; Lindsay Myers and Sarah Humlie of Pensacola; Chuck Hunziger and Bob Collier of Broward; Juan Del Hierro and Thomas Gantt Jr. of Miami; Christian Ulvert and Carlos Andrade of Miami; Richard Milstein and Eric Hankin of Miami; Robert Loupo and John Fitzgerald of Miami; Denise Hueso and Sandra Jean Newson of Miami.

Also in the federal case: Arlene Goldberg of Fort Myers, whose wife, Carol Goldwasser, died March 13; a Tallahassee couple married in Canada, James Domer Brenner and Charles Dean Jones; and two men, Ozzie Russ and Stephen Schlairet, seeking a marriage license in Washington County, Florida.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed Hinkle’s decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which has jurisdiction over Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The appeal still hasn’t been heard.

Hinkle stayed his ruling until Jan. 6, 2015. As that date approached, Bondi asked the 11th Circuit to extend the stay. A three-panel judge said no and Bondi took the case to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who oversees the circuit. He asked the full Supreme Court to decide on the stay extension.

The Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 not to extend and Hinkle’s stay expired on Jan. 6, allowing gay couples throughout Florida to wed immediately. Same-sex marriage began a day earlier in Miami-Dade County, where Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted her own stay in a similar right-to-marry case involving six same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute.

Florida became the 36th state to legalize gay marriage. On Jan. 16, the Supreme Court agreed to hear cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, and decide the gay marriage issue for the entire nation. The consolidated cases will be heard in the spring and a ruling is expected in June.

With no prompting, the 11th Circuit in Atlanta put Florida’s federal case “in abeyance” until after the Supreme Court rules, according Simon and a court memo issued Wednesday.

“The stay issued today secures Judge Hinkle’s ruling at least through the end of this Supreme Court term,” Simon said. “For all practical purposes, for couples in Florida wishing to get married or wishing to have their out of state marriages recognized with all the state benefits that that entails, this case was ‘won’ when Judge Hinkle’s stay was lifted in January. What happened today means that nothing will change for those couples, at least through the end of June.”

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