News from Tallahassee for 9/2/14

For same-sex marriages, divorce is out of reach posted on 9/2/14

by Lloyd Dunkelberger | Herlad-Tribune

TALLAHASSEE - Some 80,000 Florida couples get divorced each year.

Kathleen Vacca is being denied that legal right. The state of Florida will not let the Manatee County woman formally end her relationship because the state does not recognize Vacca's same-sex marriage from New Jersey.

“It's ironic that as people now fight for marriage equality here, I am now trying to have divorce equality,” said Vacca, who described a 17-year relationship with her partner that ended in 2012, three years after their marriage in New Jersey. “I was not prepared for the emotional and legal toll that this would entail.”

Vacca's story is the flipside of the debate over allowing same-sex marriages in Florida. It's become a national problem with gay couples getting married in 19 states that recognize same-sex marriages but finding they cannot get divorced if they move to the 31 states, including Florida, that ban the unions.

“They don't have the normal protections that a husband or a wife in an opposite-sex couple would have,” said Adam Cordover, a Tampa lawyer representing a woman, who along with her former partner, was denied a divorce in Hillsborough County. “And that creates problems legally, financially and I would have to imagine emotionally as well.”

The Hillsborough case prompted an unusual decision from the 2nd District Court of Appeal last week when a 10-3 majority of the appellate judges asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide the divorce issue.

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Fla. Supreme Court asked to rule on gay marriage posted on 8/28/14

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's highest court is being asked to decide whether or not the state's ban on gay marriage is constitutional.

In an unusual decision, the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to settle the question due to "great public importance." If the high court takes up the case, it could result in having the issue settled even before the U.S. Supreme Court acts.

The ruling is connected to a Hillsborough County divorce case involving a same-sex couple who had been married in Massachusetts but since relocated to the Tampa area. Their petition to dissolve their marriage was rejected by a Florida judge who noted that state law does not recognize gay marriage.

"Resolution of the constitutional questions will no doubt impact far more individuals than the two involved here," states the unsigned opinion. "And there can be little doubt that until the constitutional questions are finally resolved by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court, there will be a great impact on the proper administration of justice in Florida."

A panel of judges with the Lakeland based appeals court earlier this summer rejected a request to forward the case up the state Supreme Court. But that ruling was overturned in a 10-3 decision by the entire appeals court.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked judges to stop ruling on same-sex marriage cases until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether states can ban gay marriage. But her request has not been ruled on yet. Bondi's office was not involved in the Hillsborough County case, but a spokeswoman said the ruling is being reviewed now by the attorney general.

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Sheldon wins Democratic primary for Florida AG posted on 8/27/14

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- George Sheldon, a one-time top official in the Obama administration, easily defeated state Rep. Perry Thurston on Tuesday in the Democratic primary for attorney general.

Sheldon moves on to the November ballot, where he will challenge Republican incumbent Pam Bondi and Libertarian candidate Bill Wohlsifer. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Sheldon led Thurston 61 percent to 39 percent.

During a victory speech to supporters, Sheldon vowed during the next two months to draw a contrast between himself and Bondi on issues such as medical marijuana and same sex marriage.

She tried to block the medical marijuana amendment from reaching the ballot. Bondi has also led the legal fight to retain the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.

"Help me give Pam Bondi the job she really wants as an anchor on Fox News," Sheldon said.

Bondi, who is well-known in conservative circles for her unsuccessful legal campaign against President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, said she plans to emphasize her record on fighting prescription drug abuse and human trafficking in her re-election bid.

In a statement, she immediately called on Sheldon to debate her.

"The voters will have a clear choice between candidates in this election, and they deserve to hear directly from us on the distinct difference in visions and leadership that each candidate will offer," Bondi said.

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Weekly Roundup: Nobody's Perfect posted on 8/25/14

by BRANDON LARRABEE | News Service of Florida

What's the old saying? You win some and you lose some?

That was the case for the state in court this week, where attorneys won a historic case and lost another. On one hand, lawyers for the Legislature won a total victory in the second round of the legal battle over the state's congressional districts when a Leon County judge ruled that a redrawn plan complied with the Florida Constitution's prohibition on political gerrymandering. And he ruled in favor of the state on the question of whether the 2014 elections will be held under the existing map or the new one.

On the other hand, a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal judge -- though he suspended his ruling until an almost-inevitable appeal can be heard.

Outside the courtroom, political battles continued ahead of Tuesday's primaries, though both Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist were expected to cruise to easy victories.

Tallahassee federal judge throws out Florida's ban on same-sex marriage posted on 8/22/14

by JESSICA PALOMBO | WFSU

United States District Court for the Northern District of FloridaA federal judge in Tallahassee has struck down the state’s gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. The ruling comes with an automatic stay preventing the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Hinkle found in favor of eight same-sex couples who had married in other states, one couple seeking to get married, and one woman whose partner had died.

Hinkle says Florida’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution and his ruling applies to both the issuing of marriage licenses and the recognition of marriages performed legally in other states.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on behalf of eight same-sex couples, a woman whose partner had passed away and South Florida’s SAVE advocacy organization. Their suit was consolidated with another case brought by Jacksonville attorneys on behalf of two couples.

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