Florida officials seek to appeal ruling against gay marriage ban

MIAMI Thu Sep 4, 2014 10:16pm EDT

Same-sex marriage supporters Barbara Lawrence (L), 49, and Kimmy Denny, 45, chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse following a hearing seeking to strike down the state's de facto ban on gay marriage and order it to recognize same-sex marriage, in Miami, Florida July 2, 2014.  REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson

Same-sex marriage supporters Barbara Lawrence (L), 49, and Kimmy Denny, 45, chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse following a hearing seeking to strike down the state's de facto ban on gay marriage and order it to recognize same-sex marriage, in Miami, Florida July 2, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday filed a notice of an appeal in federal court on Thursday challenging a ruling last month by a U.S. district judge that declared the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Florida's Northern District in Tallahassee last month became the fifth judge in Florida to rule against the ban, which was approved by voters in 2008, and the first on the state's federal bench.

The Attorney General’s office filed the appeal notice on behalf of three defendants, a court clerk along with two members of the state government - Florida’s Secretary of Management Services Craig Nichols and state Surgeon General John Armstrong. The notice of appeal did not cite specific legal grounds.

Hinkle found that the prohibition on gay nuptials violated equal protection and due process protections under the U.S. Constitution.

Nearly 30 state and federal courts have ruled against same-sex marriage bans since last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

A state appeals court last week rejected a motion by Bondi urging the state's top court to delay a ruling on its same-sex marriage ban until the U.S. Supreme Court eventually decides on the issue.

Florida's Second District Court of Appeal asked the state Supreme Court to rule on what it said was a matter "of great public importance and will have a great effect on the proper administration of justice throughout the state."

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up the issue in its coming term, which starts in October and ends in June. It will likely be the most momentous civil rights case in years.

Equality Florida, part of a coalition fighting the ban, held Governor Rick Scott responsible for the state's "hopeless and costly" appeals.

“Make no mistake ... This appeal would not be moving forward without his full support," the group's Deputy Director Stratton Pollitzer said in a statement.

"The Governor’s continued strategy of trying to hide behind the attorney general and even his own employees is a shameful display of election year cowardice," it added.

(Reporting By David Adams and Letitia Stein; Editing by Ken Wills)