HR Management & Compliance

Legal knots untied: Same-sex marriage soon to be lawful in Florida

by Robert J. Sniffen and Jeff Slanker

Effective January 6, 2015, same-sex marriage will be lawful in Florida. On December 19, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to extend the postponement of a federal district court’s decision that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The district court judge postponed his order until January 5, 2015, and Florida’s attorney general asked the Supreme Court for an extension. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals also declined to extend the postponement, but an appeal is pending with the court. Florida is poised to become the 36th state to legally recognize same-sex marriage when the postponement expires on January 5.

Notably, the decision by the Supreme Court does not resolve the larger legal battles still brewing over same-sex marriage in Florida. Oral arguments in the state’s appeal of the district court’s decision to the 11th Circuit are likely to commence early next year.

Also, a law firm for the association representing Florida’s 67 court clerks recently issued an advisory opinion stating that the district court’s ruling applies only to Washington County, Florida. That opinion may complicate how court clerks proceed after January 5 and could set Florida on a path where some clerks ignore the ruling, believing it applies only to Washington County.

Nevertheless, as Florida continues to move closer to allowing same-sex marriage, employers should revisit their benefits policies and administration to ensure a smooth transition to the new landscape, one in which same-sex marriages are lawful and recognized by the state. Same-sex partners who will soon be able to enter into a lawful marriage in Florida will be entitled to the same employment benefits that opposite-sex spouses of employees enjoy.

For more information, see the November 2014 issue of Florida Employment Law Letter.

Robert J. Sniffen, the founder and managing partner of the Tallahassee firm of Sniffen & Spellman, P.A., can be reached at Jeff Slanker, an attorney with Sniffen & Spellman, P.A., can be reached at