In the hours after a Keys judge threw out Florida's ban on same-sex marriage Thursday, gay couples from all over the state inundated the Monroe County Clerk's Office with calls about when they could tie the knot.
“I was here until 8:30 last night taking calls from people flying in from Tallahassee and from others making reservations to come to Key West for marriage licenses,” Ron Saunders, the attorney for the clerk’s office, said Friday. “They were asking what our marriage requirements were.”
But for the moment, same-sex marriages will have to wait: An appeal filed by state Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office automatically stays the judge’s order.
Nevertheless, Saunders said, Monroe Clerk Amy Heavilin is ready. The office has already changed its marriage-license forms.
“The current vows say ‘husband and wife,’ and we changed them to ‘first spouse, second spouse,’ ” Saunders said Friday. “But with the stay, we are now in limbo.”
Monroe Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia ruled Thursday that Florida’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and ordered the clerk’s office to issue a marriage license as early as Tuesday to the plaintiffs in the case, bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones.
Shortly after the judge issued his order, Bondi’s office’s appeal to the Miami-based Third District Court of Appeal — which has jurisdiction over both counties — triggered an automatic stay.
Still celebrating a groundbreaking legal victory, the bartenders’ attorney, Bernadette Restivo, said Friday that she is determining what to do next: wait until the appeals process is over or ask Garcia to lift the automatic stay. If Garcia were to lift the stay, there’s no guarantee that same-sex couples could begin getting marriage licenses because the appeals court can issue its own stay pending its decision in the case.
“There’s a whole process about doing that. We don’t file something in court that's not our best work. There’s no rush,” said Restivo, who represents the men with law partner Elena Vigil-Fariñas. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s going to have to run its course.”
If a public official — such as Florida’s attorney general — loses a court case and appeals, an automatic stay kicks in, according to Florida law.
Juan Ramirez Jr., a former chief judge of the Third DCA, said an automatic stay is unusual, but in cases involving public officials it “means people can’t take advantage of the favorable ruling until the Third DCA reviews it.”
In 2008, Florida voters approved an amendment to the state constitution, by almost 62 percent, to prevent gay marriage. In April, Huntsman and Jones applied for a marriage license and were turned down. They then sued Heavilin.
After a hearing July 7, the judge sided with Huntsman and Jones on Thursday.
“The court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority,” Garcia wrote in his decision.
The Huntsman-Jones case mirrors one in Miami-Dade County in which six same-sex couples and the LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida Institute sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin in January for the right to marry. Those plaintiffs are still waiting for a ruling from Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel.
“We've been waiting in Miami on the marriage issue and so many other equality issues for gays and lesbians for so long, since I was a child. I've learned to grow a lot of patience,” said Jorge Isaias Diaz of Miami, who is a plaintiff in the Miami-Dade case with partner Don Price Johnston. “I know at the end of the day justice will prevail. That's what I’m looking forward to. Would love to have this done and over with — lot of other more pressing issues than whether gay people can get married, not to mention the amount of taxpayer money that’s been spent on this.”
The other plaintiffs in the Miami-Dade case are Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood; and Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation.
Meantime, several other gay-marriage cases are making their way through state and federal courts in Florida:
Gildas Dousset, a Frenchman married in Massachusetts to a Fort Lauderdale man, is suing Florida Atlantic University for in-state tuition granted to opposite-sex spouses of Florida residents.
Mariama Shaw and Keiba Shaw, who married in Massachusetts, are suing to divorce. A Hillsborough County judge ruled against them in May, setting up an appeal of the state law that bars same-sex marriage. Florida doesn’t recognize the marriage, so it won’t grant a divorce.
Same-sex couples in two consolidated federal court cases are suing the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages. One of the cases was filed in March by Miami-Dade LGBT-rights group SAVE and the ACLU of Florida.
Miami Herald Staff writers Emma Court and Ayana Stewart contributed to this report.