Gay marriage ban could be lifted in January

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal appeals court Wednesday rejected Attorney General Pam Bondi's request to at least temporarily extend Florida's ban on gay marriage -- possibly setting the stage for same-sex marriages to start in January.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in August ruled that the voter-approved ban was unconstitutional but placed a stay on his decision to allow time for appeals. That stay is scheduled to expire Jan. 5.

Bondi last month asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the stay in place until appeals of Hinkle's ruling are finished. But a three-judge panel of the court issued a short decision Wednesday turning down Bondi's request and saying that the stay entered by Hinkle "expires at the end of the day on January 5, 2015."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which has represented a group of plaintiffs challenging the ban, said Wednesday afternoon same-sex marriages will be able to start Jan. 6 if no other attempts at extending the stay are successful. Also on Jan. 6, same-sex marriages from other states would be recognized in Florida, the ACLU said.

"Today, in denying the state's request to further delay the ruling, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state's argument that allowing same-sex couples to marry and have their marriages recognized will cause harm to the state and refused to make these families wait any longer,'' ACLU attorney Daniel Tilley said in a prepared statement. "The court effectively ruled that the state does not have a likelihood of succeeding in its appeal."

A series of federal appeals-court decisions have struck down similar gay-marriage bans in other states, and the U.S. Supreme Court in October declined to take up the issue.

But in asking the appeals court for an extension of the stay, Bondi pointed to a decision in November by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

"This court should extend the stay because, on balance, it is in the public's best interest to wait for an appellate decision before implementing an order of this significance,'' Bondi argued in a document.