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State To Pay Nearly $500K In Same-Sex Marriage Legal Fees

The Associated Press

Florida taxpayers are on the hook for almost $500,000 in fees to lawyers who successfully challenged the state's prohibition against same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, who initially balked at paying the legal fees, has agreed to pay $280,000 to Jacksonville lawyers William Sheppard, Betsy White and Sam Jacobson, who represented two same-sex couples, according to documents filed in federal court on Wednesday.

Bondi's office last month agreed to pay $213,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which represented eight same-sex couples who were married in other states.

The settlements came after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in April that the lawyers in the consolidated cases were entitled to the fees, and nearly two years after Hinkle first ruled that Florida's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.

Hinkle put a stay on his August 2014 constitutional decision until January 2015, when same-sex marriages began in Florida.

A battle over the legal fees began last summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.

The Supreme Court ruling came in a case involving other states, but it cemented Hinkle's ruling that Florida's ban was unconstitutional.

In August, Bondi asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and Hinkle to dismiss the Florida case as moot. A dismissal would have absolved the state from an obligation to pay the plaintiffs' lawyers, Sheppard and his team wrote in a court filing last year.

The settlement with Sheppard, White and Jacobson is the final chapter in Florida's same-sex lawsuit, White said in a telephone interview Thursday.

"The book is closed on this lawsuit. What the future is going to hold, none of us know," she said. "You get politicians that enact laws without concern with whether or not they're constitutional, so we can't ever predict what those guys are going to do."

While the same-sex marriage case appears to be resolved, plaintiffs are refusing to drop another lawsuit involving birth certificates issued to children of same-sex couples.

The Florida Department of Health this month asked Hinkle to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was moot because the state has started listing both spouses on birth certificates of children born into same-sex marriages and has started a rule-making process to "allow the designation of mother, father, or parent on the birth record."

But, on Tuesday, the plaintiffs in the case -- two same-sex couples and an advocacy group -- objected to the Department of Health's request, asking Hinkle to grant summary judgment in their favor and issue a permanent injunction against the state.

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