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Florida: Recognition of same-sex marriages (SSMs)

Part 10: 2014- AUG: And then there were four...
County Courts in Broward and Palm Beach
Counties require state to recognize an
out-of-state same-sex civil union and a marriage

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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The location of Broward and Palm Beach counties in South Florida:

Southern counties in Florida 1

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wedding rings2014-AUG-04: Ruling in Broward County Circuit Court:

The case, Brassner v. Lade was filed on 2014-JUN-26. It is an unusual case involving multiple "Catch 22s."

The plaintiff/petitioner is Heather Brassner who had entered into a civil union with another woman, Megan E. Lade. This occurred in Vermont during 2002. She then moved to Florida where she has resided for over a decade. She wanted to have her civil union dissolved, so that she could go to another state where she and her new girlfriend can legally marry. Unfortunately, she has been unable to locate her former "civil unionized" partner, even with the help of a private detective. Vermont requires both partners to cooperate when terminating a civil union.

Brassner filed a petition with Broward County Circuit Court, asking that her civil union be terminated. Judge Dale Cohen concluded that he could not dissolve the union because the law and amended constitution states that Florida does not recognize civil unions by same-sex couples. If the state does not recognize the civil union, he cannot dissolve it.

Judge Cohen's next step was to ask for a briefing on whether the same-sex marriage ban in Florida is constitutional.

Arthur S. Leonard, writing for his newsletter Lesbian/Gay Law Notes said:

"... At this point, the weight of accumulated precedents supplies a simple answer.  As Judge Cohen concludes, looking to arguments made in other cases to determine what the state would argue if it were a party in this case, there is no rational basis for the state of Florida to deny recognition to Brassner’s civil union, where doing so would prevent her from getting married to her partner.

Judge Cohen resolved the Due Process analysis by reference to the many cases that have held that marriage equality claims invoke a fundamental right, and that there is no way that the arguments typically made by states in defense of their marriage bans can meet the compelling interest test.  On the Equal Protection analysis, he found himself bound by existing state precedent to treat this as a rational basis case, and concluded, as have many courts over the past eight months, that marriage bans also flunk the rational basis test." 2

As usual, Judge Cohen based his decision on two clauses in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He concluded that:

"By failing to recognize Petitioner’s out-of-state union her constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the law is violated. Florida’s refusal to recognize Petitioner’s union is tantamount to banning her from marrying someone of the same sex.  Accordingly, Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage and refusal to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages violates Petitioner’s fundamental right to marry under the due process clause and discriminates based on sexual orientation, which violates the equal protection clause."

"... equality is the cornerstone of our nation.  In pursuit of that ideal comes the often-uncomfortable feeling of change.  We have learned that, over time, change becomes a part of what this great nation is about. ...”

"The tides are turning on the issue of same-sex marriage throughout this country. Since the 2013 ruling of the [U.S.] Supreme Court in Windsor v. United States], there have been numerous decisions of courts throughout this country and none have found that same-sex marriage bans pass constitutional muster." 2

Judge Cohen stayed his ruling, pending the resolution of the two appeals previously filed in the other Florida counties. 3

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2014-AUG-04: Ruling in Palm Beach County Circuit Court:

This is the fourth ruling in 19 days by a Florida county court concerning recognition of a same-sex relationship.

This case involved W. Jason Simpson who had lived together in Pennsylvania for 37 years with Frank Bangor. They married during 2013-OCT in Delaware. Frank Bangor died on 2014-MAR-14 in Boynton Beach which is a city in Palm Beach County, FL. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis ruled that Florida's bans on recognizing same-sex marriage "unnecessarily discriminate" against Simpson and prevented him from personally representing the estate of his late husband. Florida law requires a personal representative of a non-resident to be:

"... a spouse or a brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece of the decedent” or blood relative.

According to Delaware and Pennsylvania law, Simpson and Bangor were spouses. According to Florida law, they were "legal strangers" with the status only of roommates.

Judge Lewis wrote in her ruling:

"There is no justification in denying Mr. Simpson the privilege of acting as the fiduciary, based solely on the gender and sexual orientation of his now-deceased spouse."

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi did not appeal this case to a higher court, as she did for the three previous cases. This is probably because the judge's decision only applies to this one marriage. Simpson's lawyer, Andrew 'Drew' Fein said:

"I really respect Pam Bondi’s office not to oppose my client’s petition and to allow my client the same rights and privileges as any other widow or widower in an opposite sex marriage." 4

Attorney Fein also commented on the ruling, saying:

"People aren’t going to be able to line up tomorrow and get marriage licenses because of this, but it is important that they have declared this unconstitutional. When something’s declared unconstitutional, it doesn’t just spring back into being right -- at least not in this case." 5

Daphne Duret, writing for the Palm Beach Post, said:

"Although Simpson said he knew his legal fight could be part of a precedent, he didn’t think about that when he began.

'For me it was personal,' he said. 'It was about carrying out Frank’s wishes, and honoring his memory'." 5

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This topic continues in the next essay with a
federal District Court ruling for the entire state.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above menu. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Map was truncated from a full Florida county map that was created by MapWise, Inc. at: http://www.mapwise.com
  2. Alan Greenblatt, "Florida court overturns state's same-sex marriage ban,"2014-JUL-17, National Public Radio, at: http://www.npr.org/
  3. Arthur S. Leonard, "A third Florida trial court rules in favor of marriage equality in a Civil Union recognition case," Lesbian/Gay Law Notes 2014-AUG-04, at: http://www.artleonardobservations.com/
  4. Steve Rothaus, "Florida must recognize gay widower’s Delaware marriage, Palm Beach judge rules," Miami Herald, 2014-AUG-05, at:http://www.miamiherald.com/
  5. Daphne Duret, "Palm Beach County judge declares gay marriage ban unconstitutional," The Palm Beach Post, 2014-AUG-05, at: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Florida > here

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-AUG-05
Latest update: 2014-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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