Florida's First Openly Gay Judge Calls on State Not to Appeal Latest Federal Ruling
On Thursday, in a 33-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Florida's Northern District in Tallahassee became the fifth judge in the state to rule against the same-sex marriage ban. Like the previous rulings, however, Hinkle immediately stayed his ruling, meaning that gay and lesbian couples still can't get marriage licenses.
Following Hinkle's ruling, Rand Hoch, Florida's first openly gay judge, called on the state -- particularly Rick Scott -- to refrain from appealing Hinkle's federal court decision.
"Without an appeal, the matter of marriage equality will finally become settled uniformly throughout the state," Hoch said in a statement via the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. "Gay and lesbian Floridians will then be able to have their relationships -- and their marriages -- formally recognized."
Even with now five judges ruling in favor of gay marriage and declaring Florida's 2008 ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the state, led by Attorney General Pam Bondi, has been appealing each ruling in an attempt to keep same-sex marriage illegal in Florida.
Earlier this month, Bondi filed two motions in a state appeals court requesting a freeze on appeals by same-sex couples who are challenging Florida's gay marriage ban. With the motions, Bondi wants the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether states have the right to ban gay marriage. Her contention is that it would be a burden on the state's taxpayers to keep bringing these issues to court.
But in his ruling Thursday, Hinkle said the ban on same-sex marriage is simple discrimination and compared it to a time when interracial marriage was banned in America. He also said that history will judge this to be true and that there should be no limits to liberty or tolerance.
"When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination," Hinkle wrote in his ruling. "To paraphrase a civil rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was struck down, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."
Hinkle added: "The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same-sex marriage are struck down. Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts."
The specific case Hinkle ruled on involved ten same-sex couples, most of whom were married outside of Florida and were looking for their marriages to be recognized by the state. Among the plaintiffs is a woman whose wife has recently passed away, and she is seeking for her spouse's death certificate to reflect their marriage of almost 50 years.
"There is no good reason to further deny the simple human dignity of being listed on her spouse's death certificate," Hinkle wrote in the ruling.
For his part, Hoch said Hinkle's ruling gets "our state one step closer to marriage equality for all Floridians."
Hoch, who practices law and mediates employment disputes, became Florida's first openly gay judge when he was appointed Judge of Compensation Claims in 1992 by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles. He served until his term ended in 1996.
In 1988, Hoch founded the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council and has served as the group's president since 2006.
Hoch, along with other gay marriage advocates, have been calling the state to not get in the way of marriage equality.
"As long as Florida's marriage ban stays in place, short of an act of Congress, legally married lesbian and gay Floridians will still be denied spousal benefits from the Social Security and Veterans Administrations," he says. "This is simply unfair and unjust."
You can read Hinkle's 33-page ruling below: