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Third South Florida Judge Rules Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

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Most of the plaintiffs in this year's same-sex marriage cases have been people who just wanted to get married.

But Heather Brassner was different -- she wanted a same-sex divorce. 

Brassner, a West Palm Beach art dealer, wants to marry her partner, Jennifer Feagins, but she's still in a civil union that she entered in Vermont with her ex 14 years ago.

Florida courts couldn't give her the divorce she needed because same-sex civil unions are not recognized in the state. But she won in court Monday.

Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen said being denied a divorce violated her due process and equal protection rights.

"The state of Florida cannot ignore the status and dignity afforded to opposite sex couples who were married out-of-state," Cohen said, "and not extend those same rights dignities and benefits to same-sex couples similarly situated." 

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Heather Brassner,41, asked a Broward judge to dissolve her civil union in Vermont. But Florida must first legally recognize it before providing a divorce.

Because same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage are banned by the same law, and the judge struck it down, the Brassner decision becomes the third South Florida ruling in favor of gay marriage this year. As in the previous cases in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, the rulings are stayed pending the expected appeals from the state attorney general's office. 

Brassner's lawyer Nancy Brodzki is expecting the state Supreme Court to consolidate the appeals into one case and rule swiftly.

While the divorce and the marriage will have to wait for that decision, Brassner is not discouraged.

"I do believe that eventually this will be a moot question and marriage equality will be not only in Florida but nationwide," she says. "And I believe that will occur within my lifetime." 

She had the option of returning to Vermont to dissolve her civil union. But it would have required establishing residency there. According to Brodzki, that's an unconstitutional burden that people in heterosexual marriages would never encounter.

Editor's note: This post has been edited from the original version of the story.