Two Key West bartenders, who last week won permission from a Monroe circuit judge to marry despite Florida's constitutional gay-marriage ban, at noon Wednesday asked an appeals court to let them wed immediately.
Four hours later, the court said “denied.”
Attorneys for Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones filed a motion with Florida's Third District Court of Appeal to lift an automatic stay that kicked in when they won their circuit court victory on July 17, defeating Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The appeals court acknowledged receiving the case on Wednesday afternoon.
“We certainly believe this stay should be lifted,” said Bernadette Restivo, who represents Huntsman and Jones with law partner Elena Vigil-Fariñas. “Every day this same-sex marriage ban is in place, our clients and other couples like them throughout the state of Florida are irrevocably harmed and discriminated against by this unconstitutional ban.”
“We will not let the opposition dictate the pace of this case,” Restivo added.
This was the men’s second attempt at lifting the stay.
On Monday, Monroe County Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, who last week ruled in the men's favor and declared Florida's 2008 gay marriage ban unconstitutional, denied their first request.
In both the motion filed Monday to Garcia and the second Wednesday to the appeals court, Restivo wrote: “The Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples who wish to marry are suffering serious, irreparable harms every day [Florida’s Marriage Protection Act] remains in effect."
“Based on decisions of the United States Supreme Court and other courts to stay proceedings in similar challenges, this court DENIES the Emergency Motion,” Garcia wrote Monday afternoon. “The automatic stay, currently in place, shall remain in place until completion of appellate proceedings or until further order of this Court.”
After Garcia's July 17 ruling, Bondi swiftly announced she would appeal to the Third District Court of Appeal. Her office also issued a statement saying that “with many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.”
By filing a notice of appeal, Bondi triggered the automatic stay in the case, meaning that Garcia’s ruling is put on hold. If Garcia had lifted the stay, Bondi would have needed to ask the appeals court to reinstate it.
Garcia’s original decision that the men should be allowed to marry applies only to Monroe County, because it was filed in front of a state judge who has jurisdiction only in the county where he sits. Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel has yet to rule in a similar case.
Huntsman and Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license, saying Florida’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.
The Monroe case mirrors the suit in Miami-Dade, in which six same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida Institute sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry. In both cases, Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum argued that the judges should not dismiss Florida’s constitutional gay marriage ban, which passed in 2008 with the support of 62 percent of voters. The state, citing a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, contended that the definition of marriage belongs exclusively to the state and is exempt from federal scrutiny.
Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriages. Since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that ordered the federal government to recognize those marriages, more than 20 cases have been won by gay-marriage advocates across America.