TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In something that supporters and opponents have seen approaching for a while, it looks like Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages is about to be lifted.
A federal appeals court this week 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 ban was unconstitutional but placed a stay on his decision to allow time for appeals. That stay is scheduled to expire Jan. 5. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned away a request by Bondi to keep the stay in place until appeals of Hinkle's ruling are finished.
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."
Supporters of the ban, of course, vowed to continue the fight.
"We may grieve today, but we will not despair," said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, in a statement issued after the ruling. "We will not throw in the towel. We will not give up."
The ruling came Wednesday -- a bad day at the federal courthouse for the state. The 11th Circuit also rejected a Florida law pushed by Scott that would require welfare applicants to submit to drug tests before they can receive benefits in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The 2011 law "offends the Fourth Amendment" protections from unreasonable searches by the government, a three-judge panel ruled in a 54-page opinion authored by Judge Stanley Marcus.
"Encouraging employability, protecting children, and conserving public funds are general -- and unquestionably legitimate -- public concerns," Marcus said. "But empirical evidence indicates these needs are not specific to or special for TANF applicants, nor is drug testing essential to ensuring the success of the TANF program as a whole."
Scott can either ask the 11th Circuit for an "en banc" review by the entire court or pursue an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.