MIAMI - A judge in the Florida Keys has overturned the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage after a legal challenge by six gay couples said it effectively made them second-class citizens.
The judge ordered the clerk of courts office to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
The ruling was issued Thursday by Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia and applies only to Monroe County, which covers the Keys. The lawsuit contended that the same-sex marriage ban approved by voters in 2008 violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
"In the other states where we won marriage, it started with a preliminary court victory just like this one. It will open the door to the next step that will ultimately legalize gay marriage for couples throughout the state," said Michael Farmer with Equality Florida.
The judge said licenses could be issued starting Tuesday. But shortly after the ruling, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a notice of appeal challenging the judge's ruling, effectively putting the ruling on hold.
Bondi and ban supporters argued that the referendum vote should be respected and that Florida has sole authority to define marriage in the state. The Florida amendment defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Bondi’s appeal did not deter local people from celebrating the judge’s landmark decision.
Michael Farmer and Boys Lindsley were just one of many couples at an Orlando same-sex marriage support party at the Hammered Lamb on Orange Avenue.
They’ve been together three years and plan to tie the knot.
“Once things become legal, we will be very quickly making plans,” Lindsley said.
Judy Rettig and Christine Santoro, who have been together 40 years and were married in Connecticut, called the decision bittersweet.
“We’re happy that we’re moving forward," Retting said, but she added "Pam Bond held us up.”
Bondi’s decision effectively stops same-sex marriages until it’s heard by a higher court.
WFTV was told there’s nothing in Florida law that bars people from getting married anywhere in the state, but they must first get the official license in Monroe County.