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Same-sex marriage will be legal in Florida starting at midnight

Miami, Jan 5 (EFE).- Gay marriage will be legal starting this midnight in Florida as it becomes the 36th state to permit unions of same-sex couples and to recognize gay marriages contracted in other states.

It has been a long struggle for the gay community against the state law, which, backed by voters in 2008, defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in August that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, but he stayed his own order pending resolution of state Attorney General Pam Bondi’s appeal against the decision.

The stay expired Monday and both the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Bondi’s motions to extend it.

Greenberg Traurig, a private law firm representing the association of Florida’s county clerks, said late last month that the requirement to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples applied only to the county involved in the original case before Hinkle.

But in response to a request for clarification from Bondi’s office, Hinkle issued a ruling last Thursday stating that all Florida counties must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples seeking to wed.

“It is a historic development. It ends a discriminatory ban in Florida and provides marriage equality for thousands of families,” Carolina Gonzalez, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told Efe.

She said that the judge’s order also signifies the “acknowledgment of direct legal benefits” for same-sex couples.

In that sense, Gonzalez said, the ruling will provide a safety net for people like the couple that the ACLU defended in court, a lesbian couple who had been together for 47 years and when one of them died, the death certificate said the deceased was not married, and therefore the survivor was not a beneficiary of her late partner’s Social Security benefits.

Gonzalez said the ban harmed many gay couples in other states who, considering the possibility of moving to Florida, decided not to do so because they would “lose benefits” since gay marriage was not accepted.

The ACLU hopes that all county clerks abide by the judge’s ruling and that Florida will therefore become a state that “treats all its inhabitants equally.”

Next Saturday, Miami’s Unity on the Bay church will celebrate a massive wedding free of charge, to which are invited all gay couples in Florida and other states who wish to marry or renew their wedding vows.