Supreme Court declines to block Florida same-sex marriages

Story highlights

  • Supreme Court declines to further delay judge's ruling that state's ban is unconstitutional
  • "This is a thrilling day for all Florida families," ACLU of Florida attorney says
  • Ban to be lifted January 5, but appeals court could rule later
  • Official expresses "confusion" over whether all counties will issue licenses
Florida appears set to recognize same-sex marriages on January 6, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to further delay a lower court's finding that the state's ban on the unions is unconstitutional.
The high court Friday night, without explanation, rejected the Florida attorney general's request to intervene. A U.S. District judge in Florida had ruled in August the state's ban was unconstitutional but stayed the ruling to allow for appeals.
The case hasn't been completely settled.
Neither the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals nor the Supreme Court have ruled on the merits, and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has defended the ban, has expressed "confusion" over whether all 67 counties will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples before appeals are settled.
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said it expects the state to fully recognize same-sex marriages when U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle's stay expires at the end of January 5.
"This is a thrilling day for all Florida families. As we explained to the court, every day that the ban remains in place, couples are suffering real harms," ACLU of Florida attorney Daniel Tilley said. "We are grateful that the court recognized that, and that as a result, those days are finally coming to an end."
Florida would become the 36th state to recognize same-sex marriage, in addition to the District of Columbia.
In August, Hinkle ruled the Florida ban -- first put into law in 1977 and written into the state's constitution after a 2008 referendum -- violates the "due process" and "equal protection" provisions in the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.
His ruling applied to whether same-sex couples can marry in Florida as well as to whether such marriages elsewhere should be recognized in the Sunshine State.
As part of the ruling, Hinkle ordered that Washington County, Florida, must issue a marriage license to two plaintiffs -- a same-sex couple -- who sued the state. He then stayed his own ruling, saying some time needed to pass to allow higher courts to reverse his decision.
Bondi filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit. That court has yet to hear, or schedule a hearing on, arguments on the merits.
Both Hinkle and the 11th Circuit declined this fall to extend the stay. On Monday, Bondi asked the high court to extend the delay until the state exhausted its appeals.
"The public is not served by on-again, off-again marriage laws," her office argued in this week's application.
After the Supreme Court declined to intervene, Bondi issued a statement acknowledging January 5 as the stay's final day. But, earlier this week, she said that there would be "confusion about the effect of (Hinkle's ruling), which is directed to only one of Florida's 67 clerks of court."
Bondi's statement didn't directly address her earlier county concerns. A Bondi spokeswoman did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment Saturday on whether all 67 counties must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once Hinkle's stay expires.
Tilley, the ACLU of Florida attorney, indicated that he expects they will.
"We expect public officials in all of Florida's 67 counties to understand the significance of this development and look forward to full implementation of Judge Hinkle's decision across our state," Tilley said.
U.S. district and circuit courts overturned many states' same-sex marriage bans after the Supreme Court rejected parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.
One federal appeals court -- the Sixth Circuit -- upheld bans in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky in November, a move that could force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.