NYTimes: Judge Lifts Ban, and Gay Weddings Begin in Florida

MIAMI — Ending a drawn-out battle over same-sex marriage in Florida, Miami-Dade on Monday became the first county in the state to allow gay couples to wed after a state judge lifted a temporary ban on the nuptials.

The rest of the state was to begin legalizing same-sex marriage just after midnight, as Florida becomes the 36th state to allow gay couples to wed. (The District of Columbia also permits same-sex marriages.) Mass wedding ceremonies were scheduled in counties across Florida beginning on Tuesday as couples rush to make their relationships legally binding. Group weddings are planned in Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Miami Beach and Orlando.

As gay couples began to wed, Jeb Bush, the state’s former governor and long an opponent of same-sex marriages, struck an unexpectedly conciliatory tone on Monday, saying in a statement that “regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law.”

Mr. Bush did not indicate any enthusiasm for challenging the ruling Monday. His comments instead suggested a tacit acceptance of the new legal status for gay married couples, or at least an acknowledgment that there is little he can do to block it.

“I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty,” he said.

Miami-Dade was the first county to proceed because the judge’s ruling Monday was part of a state lawsuit, separate from a broader federal lawsuit. The judge, Sarah Zabel, of the Miami-Dade Circuit Court, declared the prohibition on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in July but had kept the ban in place pending appeals. On Monday morning, in response to a federal ruling last week in Florida, she lifted that temporary ban.

Three hours later, Judge Zabel officially married two of the six couples who had sued the county over the same-sex marriage ban. The wedding took place at Miami’s civil courthouse, where the couples exchanged rings.

“Our son is finally going to have a family that is not a second-class citizen,” said Karla Arguello, who married Catherina Pareto. “He has a family like everybody else’s.”

Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade’s clerk of courts, began to issue wedding licenses shortly after Judge Zabel’s ruling.

“All of our offices are now fully prepared to follow the judge’s order, and everyone will be treated equally,” he said in a statement.

Other clerks of courts were to follow suit Tuesday across Florida, the nation’s third-largest state and one of the country’s most sought-after destinations for gay men and lesbians. The temporary ban on same-sex marriage issued by Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Federal District Court in Tallahassee, in a separate case, was to expire at midnight on Monday.

On Aug. 21, Judge Hinkle ruled that the state’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional as part of a federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on behalf of same-sex couples and a gay-rights group. Judge Hinkle gave Attorney General Pam Bondi until Monday to file an appeal, temporarily suspending his decision, but her attempts to extend the deadline failed.

After two weeks of confusion over whether the ruling applied to only one county in Florida, Judge Hinkle clarified his order on Thursday, saying that the “constitution” requires that clerks in all of the state’s 67 counties issue marriage licenses.

Florida county clerks said they would abide by the law and issue licenses, but some clerks, including for Duval County, home to Jacksonville, announced last week that they would end ceremonial courthouse weddings so as not to force staff members who object to same-sex marriage to participate in such ceremonies.

The clerk of courts in Duval County, Ronnie Fussell, told The Florida Times-Union that marriage should be “between a man and a woman.”

“Personally, it would go against my belief to perform a ceremony that is other than that,” Mr. Fussell said.

Click here to read the original article.