On January 6, 2015, circuit court clerks across the state began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples in response to a federal judge’s ruling that Florida’s legal ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional. Many court clerks intended to continue performing marriages for both same sex and heterosexual couples, while a few decided to stop performing marriages for anyone.
This historic shift in Florida marital law is not a finished story. There is still a pending appeal of the ruling by Florida’s Attorney General, which could ultimately result in a reversal of the federal judge’s decision. Yes, that’s right. Until the case has reached the end of its course, uncertainty about the legality of same-sex marriage will continue to hover over Florida citizens. To date, the Attorney General has given no indications that she will dismiss the appeal, though a spokesman for her office recently stated that “ [t]he judge has ruled, and we wish these couples the best.” The lingering uncertainty doesn’t seem to be dampening the enthusiasm of proponents of legal marriage for same sex couples. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of same sex couples may marry in Florida before a final judicial decision is handed down.
It seems like common sense that the right to divorce your same-sex spouse would be a given now that Florida permits same sex couples to marry. To date, a Broward County court recently granted a divorce to a same sex couple, but that doesn’t mean that all divorce courts across the state will initially take the same view. It is still unknown whether the Attorney General will appeal that ruling in view of the current legal status of same sex marriages.
And what about the Hillsborough County divorce denial case currently pending before the Second District Court of Appeal. Will the Second District find that intervening legal rulings are grounds to reverse the Hillsborough County divorce judge who denied a divorce to a same sex couple married in Massachusetts because Florida law, at that time, didn’t recognize the validity of the marriage?
Without question, same-sex marriage and divorce issues are in a state of rapid flux in Florida. If you have questions about these topics, consult an experienced family law attorney to explore your legal rights under changing Florida law.