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Florida appeals court says state can rule on gay marriage ban

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - An appeals court in Florida on Thursday rejected a motion by its attorney general that urged 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 Attorney General Pam Bondi argued that the debate about gay nuptials involves issues central to the U.S. Constitution, and that therefore only the nation's highest court has the authority to make a decision.

In a brief ruling, a judge in Florida's Miami-based Third District Court of Appeal rejected Bondi's motion.

On Wednesday, 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."

A week ago, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Florida's Northern District in Tallahassee 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.

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

At least 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.

The 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.

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