The Effects of the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling in Florida

Though same-sex marriage has been legal in Florida since January, the Supreme Court’s recent historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges has some important effects on Florida same-sex couples. Now that same-sex marriage is legal everywhere in the U.S., Florida couples no longer need to worry about laws changing and can move to any state without fearing that their marriages will not be recognized.

Same-Sex Marriage in Florida

In 2008, Florida voters voted to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. But in August of 2014, in Brenner v. Scott, a U.S. district court ruled the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The order was stayed temporarily, but the stay expired in January of 2015, and Florida has recognized same-sex marriage since.

Brenner was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, and there was some uncertainty about whether same-sex marriage would remain legal in the state. But since the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, it will remain legal in Florida.

Obergefell v. Hodges

In Obergefell, the Supreme Court ruled, 5–4, to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. It held that:

  • State same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional.
  • States must recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states.

The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees due process and equal protection under the law. The court held that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right, and so the state may not deprive same-sex couples of that right.

Obergefell was a consolidation of four cases, addressing bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the lead case, sued to have his marriage to John Arthur, which was performed in Maryland, recognized in Ohio, which at the time did not permit same-sex marriages. Arthur had been terminally ill at the time of their marriage, and Obergefell wanted his name listed on Arthur’s death certificate. So he sued the state, challenging its ban.

Effects on Florida Couples

The Supreme Court decision alleviates confusion regarding same-sex marriages in Florida. Because of the Brenner appeal, it was uncertain whether the state would continue to recognize same-sex marriages. But now, same-sex couples do not have to worry about the law changing again.

Before the ruling, thirty-six states, including Florida and the District of Columbia, recognized same-sex marriage, while fourteen states did not. For Florida couples, this meant that problems could arise if they moved to a state where same-sex marriage was not recognized. Same-sex couples could be affected in a variety of areas, including health care benefits, adoption, birth and death certificates, making health care decisions, and administering a partner’s estate. Importantly, same-sex couples living in states that did not recognize their marriages could not obtain divorces. But now, their marriages will be recognized in any state they choose to move to, and these problems will no longer exist.

However, the Supreme Court did not address the issue of whether sexual orientation is a protected class. This means that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is still permissible unless there are laws in place forbidding it. Some counties in Florida have laws forbidding discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But in much of the state, it is still legal to discriminate in housing, employment, or public accommodations.

Issues surrounding same-sex marriage can still be confusing in this time of transition and change in the law. If you have questions about how your marriage will be affected, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.