Wednesday, December 17 marked an historical day in Florida. Broward County Circuit Judge Dale Cohen granted the very first formal divorce of a same-sex couple in the state. The case was used as a way for the judge to join others in declaring unconstitutional Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The marriage in question was between two women who were united by a civil union in Vermont in 2002. One of the two women now lives in Florida, but has been unable to get divorced despite having secured a legal separation from her partner five years ago. This was due to the fact that the state ban made both same-sex marriage and divorce illegal in Florida.
In August the Circuit Court judge ruled that the state’s ban was unconstitutional due to the fact that it violates the equal protection clause granted by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. By granting a divorce in Florida, Judge Cohen took that ruling a step further by asserting that out-of-state same-sex marriages would be recognized in Florida. The formal divorce in Florida between the same-sex couple implicitly suggests that there must have been a valid marriage in the first place. However, the ruling does not mean that same-sex marriage licenses can or will be issued in Broward County.
It is unlikely that this is close to the end of the battle, as most anticipate the state’s Attorney General to appeal the decision. In fact, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle has declared the ban unconstitutional, but is holding off on allowing same-sex marriages in Florida until January 5, 2015, in an effort to give the Attorney General adequate time to file an appeal. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is hearing emergency appeals from the state and has requested briefs on the matter.
Marriage laws are changing constantly in Florida. If you have any questions about same-sex marriage or divorce in the state, speak with a skilled family law attorney at the Law Office of K. Dean Kantaras.