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Fla. Judge Grants Same-Sex Divorce, Invalidates State Law

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 19, 2014 8:18 AM

A Florida judge granted Florida's first same-sex divorce on Wednesday, simultaneously striking down the state's refusal to recognize out-of-state gay marriages.

Heather Brassner and Megan Lade were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2002, but Brassner has tried unsuccessfully to untie the knot in Florida for the last five years. The Associated Press reports that Circuit Judge Dale Cohen dissolved Brassner and Lade's union after recognizing their marriage as legal, which required declaring that "out-of-state marriages should be recognized in Florida."

How does this gay divorce decision square with Florida's other gay marriage cases?

Broward County Joins Other Fla. State Courts

Judge Cohen had determined in August that Florida's gay-marriage ban was unconstitutional, agreeing with courts across the country that the law violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of the law. This ruling dovetails with two other Florida state courts which struck down the state's same-sex marriage prohibitions as unconstitutional, which may eventually bring the issue to the Florida Supreme Court.

Brassner's case is somewhat unique, however, because it doesn't involve the State of Florida or a county clerk's office as a party. It simply asked for the court to dissolve the marriage between Brassner and Lade, who disappeared from Brassner's life four years ago. According to The Miami Herald, Vermont wouldn't undo their union without a signed affidavit from Lade.

Luckily Judge Cohen ultimately dissolved the union without Lade's intervention, and in the process allowed the first gay divorce to occur in Florida. Both Colorado and Texas have also allowed gay divorce despite not making gay marriage available or recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages.

Fla. Gay Marriage in January?

While this case is a win for Brassner, it's unlikely that Broward County's clerks will start issuing marriage licenses just yet. That's partially because there's also a federal court in Florida that struck down the state's gay marriage ban, in a decision which should go into effect on January 5, 2015.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked that the Supreme Court intervene to put an emergency stay on this federal ruling, but as of Thursday, the High Court had yet to respond.

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