Undoubtedly, by now you have heard that the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark marriage equality decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. _ (2015).
More specifically, in Obergefell the Court held that state laws, such as those in Florida, that define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman violate the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses and are, thereby, unconstitutional. In reaching this conclusion, the Court reasoned as follows:
It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality. Here the marriage laws enforced by the respondents are in essence unequal: same-sex couples are denied all the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them. And the Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.
Obergefell v. Hodges, 14-556, slip op. p. 22, 576 U.S. __ (2015). In a rarity for the Court, the opinion makes romantic pronouncements about the institution of marriage and the profound derogatory affect of the exclusion of same-sex couples. In particular, the Court stated:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
Id. p. 28.
As a consequence of this decision, same-sex marriage is now lawful in all 50 states. But what exactly does this decision mean for gays and lesbians residing in Florida? To assist with understanding the practical implications of the Obergefell decision, below we provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
Q: Can I get married in Florida even though Florida Statute § 741.212 states that “the term ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the term ‘spouse’ applies only to a member of such a union”?
A: Yes. The Obergefell decision trumps and invalidates any Florida law that precludes gays and lesbians from marrying.
Q: Does Florida have to recognize my out-of-state marriage?
A: Yes. Indeed, the Obergefell decision states “[t]he Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.“ Id.
Q: I got married in New York, can I get divorced in Florida?
A: Yes. Because Florida must recognize your out-of-state marriage, it cannot deny you the right to get divorced in Florida based upon the same-sex character of your marriage. Similar to heterosexual couples, however, you must meet the Florida residency requirement prior to filing a petition for dissolution of marriage.
Q: Is my domestic partnership the same as a marriage?
A: No. A domestic partnership is not a marriage. In fact, here in Florida, domestic partnerships were created by local ordinances not state law. For instance, both Broward County and Miami-Dade County have domestic partnership ordinances that were passed by those Counties respective boards of county commissioners. Moreover, the Obergefell decision only relates to marriage not domestic partnerships. It does not require the states to recognize a domestic partnership. Nor does one county have to recognize a domestic partnership entered into in a different county. Thus, Polk County, for instance, would not necessarily be legally compelled to recognize a domestic partnership entered into in Broward County. Furthermore, the legal protections provided through a domestic partnership are not as extensive as those provided by marriage.
Individual circumstances and needs may vary. As such, if you would like us to provide advice regarding your specific situation, please contact the Thornton Legal Group, PLLC.
Bridgette N. Thornton is the founding and Managing Partner of the Thornton Legal Group, PLLC, and is a 2003 graduate of Harvard Law School. If you would like more information about the Thornton Legal Group, PLLC, please visit www.ttlawgrp.com.