In 2002, well before same-sex marriage was legal in any state in the U.S., two women entered into a civil union in Vermont. The relationship lasted for a number of years; but the couple split up in 2010. Their union, however, is proving more difficult to get out of than it was to enter. Heather Brassner, one of the women, lives now in Florida and is seeking a divorce. But before a Broward County judge could grant that divorce, he had to explicitly and controversially rule on Florida's stance to same-sex marriage in general.
Florida's Current Approach to Same-Sex Marriage
Florida, like many states, does not permit same-sex marriage. In fact, according to the Miami
Herald, approximately 62 percent of voters in Florida were in favor of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages or civil unions when it was on the ballot in 2008. This measure, which passed, added the following language to the Florida Constitution: "Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."
On July 17 of this year, however, a Monroe County judge held that Florida's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional under the rights afforded by the United States Constitution. On July 25, a Miami-Dade judge held the same. And soon thereafter, Broward Judge Dale Cohen agreed, stating that Florida's ban was in violation of the U.S. Constitution and that Heather Brassner should be able to divorce in this state as well.
Last summer, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling striking down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, or "DOMA." DOMA, passed in 1996, prohibited federal benefits from being provided same-sex couples, even when those couples were legally married under their own states' laws.
Subsequent to the Supreme Court's discarding of DOMA, over 30 federal and state courts have ruled further in favor of same-sex marriage. And like Judge Cohen in the recent Broward divorce case, many of these judges cite the DOMA case for the proposition that a same-sex marriage ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. These judges believe that such a ban infringes on due process rights and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee that people not be denied equal protection of the law.
"This Court believes that the issue here is not whether there is a right to same-sex marriage," wrote Judge Cohen, "but instead whether there is a right to marriage from which same-sex couples can be excluded. The State of Florida cannot ignore the status and dignity afforded to opposite-sex couples."
For now, Heather Brassner, along with parties and advocates on both sides of this issue, have a long road ahead. Both the Miami-Dade and Monroe County cases have been appealed by the state; and an appeal is soon expected in the Broward case as well.
Divorce Lawyers Can Answer Your Questions
If you are seeking a divorce and need help navigating the law, please reach out to our professionals at Hager
& Schwartz, P.A. in Miami today. We can help you through this time and advise you on any and all family law-related matters.