A Florida Keys judge who last week ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional was asked Monday to permit gay couples to marry in Monroe County despite a pending state appeal.
The motion was filed Monday morning with Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia by attorneys for Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, a pair of Key West bartenders whose lawsuit successfully challenged the ban. Garcia ruled last week that the ban on same-sex marriage added to the state constitution by Florida voters in 2008 is discriminatory and violates gay people's right to equal treatment under the law.
Garcia ruled marriage licenses could be issued in Monroe County beginning Tuesday to gay couples. But that was blocked by an automatic stay triggered when Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi immediately filed notice that the state will appeal.
Bondi's office filed papers later Monday urging Garcia to keep the stay in place until all appeals are sorted out.
It wasn't immediately clear when Garcia would rule. And if the judge lifts the stay, Bondi's office could ask the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal to reinstate it.
In their motion, three attorneys for Huntsman and Jones wrote that gays are suffering harm because they cannot marry in Monroe County despite the judge's ruling and because the state is unlikely to ultimately win an appeal. Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions against state marriage limits around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
"Every day that goes by, plaintiffs and other same-sex couples are being deprived of important constitutional rights and suffering additional serious, ongoing, and irreparable dignitary, legal and economic harms," the motion says.
Gays have flocked to Key West since the judge's ruling in anticipation that they could become the first group of same-sex couples to legally marry in Florida history. The Monroe County clerk's office has already changed marriage license forms from "husband and wife" to "first spouse, second spouse."
Lawsuits challenging Florida's gay marriage ban are also pending in Miami-Dade County and Tallahassee federal court. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriages, with the remaining state bans all facing legal challenges seeking to overturn them.
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