MIAMI — A Florida Keys judge who last week ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional refused Monday to allow gay couples to begin marrying in Monroe County, citing a pending appeal by the state attorney general.
Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia rejected a motion to allow immediate weddings filed 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 initially 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 and preserve the status quo until all appeals are sorted out and Garcia agreed. That means no gay marriages can take place while Garcia's original ruling is reviewed by the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal, which could take weeks or months to issue a decision.
But gay marriage has now received some support from the right in Florida. On Monday, a Tampa Bay area Republican, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, came out in support of last week's ruling.
"As a matter of my Christian faith, I believe in traditional marriage," Jolly said in a statement. "But as a matter of Constitutional principle I believe in a form of limited government that protects personal liberty. To me, that means that the sanctity of one's marriage should be defined by their faith and by their church, not by their state."
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 inundated Monroe County officials with requests for information 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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