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WILSON v. AKE

January 19, 2005.

REV. NANCY WILSON and DR. PAULA SCHOENWETHER, Plaintiffs,
v.
RICHARD L. AKE and JOHN ASHCROFT, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES S. MOODY, JR., District Judge

ORDER

THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon United States Attorney General John Ashcroft's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. # 31), Memorandum in Support of United States Attorney General Ashcroft's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. # 39), and Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law in Opposition to the United States Attorney General's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. # 48). The Court, having considered the Motion and Memoranda, and being otherwise fully advised, finds that the Motion should be granted.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

  Plaintiffs Nancy Wilson and Paula Schoenwether allege that they are a lesbian couple who reside together in the Middle District of Florida. According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs were legally married in the State of Massachusetts and possess a valid marriage license from that State. Plaintiffs allege that they personally presented their Massachusetts marriage license to a Deputy Clerk at the Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office in Hillsborough County, Florida, asking for "acceptance of the valid and legal Massachusetts marriage license." (Complaint, ¶ 12). Plaintiffs allege that "[t]heir demand was refused by Defendant Ake, whose Deputy Clerk stated that according to Federal and Florida law, the Clerk is not allowed to recognize, for marriage purposes, the Massachusetts marriage license, because Federal and Florida law prohibit such recognition." (Complaint, ¶ 12).

  Plaintiffs have filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment asking this Court to declare the Federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), 1 U.S.C. § 7; 28 U.S.C. § 1738C,*fn1 and Florida Statutes § 741.212,*fn2 unconstitutional and to enjoin their enforcement. Plaintiffs have sued, in their official capacities, Richard L. Ake, Clerk of the Circuit Court in Hillsborough County, Florida, and United States Attorney General John Ashcroft.*fn3

  Plaintiffs allege that the two statutes violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause, the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Privileges and Immunities Clause, and the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

  Plaintiffs assert that Florida is required to recognize Plaintiffs' valid Massachusetts marriage license because DOMA exceeds Congress' power under the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Plaintiffs also argue that twelve United States Supreme Court cases (which Plaintiffs label "The Dynamite Dozen"), beginning with Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), and ending with Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), demonstrate a recent trend by the United States Supreme Court to expand "the fundamental liberty of personal autonomy in connection with one's intimate affairs and family relations." (Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law in Opposition (Dkt. # 48), p. 11). Plaintiffs urge this Court to expand on "The Dynamite Dozen" by finding that the right to enter into a same-sex marriage is protected by the Constitution.

  Defendant Ashcroft has moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P., on the grounds that the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.*fn4 The United States, in a well-written Memorandum, argues that Plaintiffs' Complaint is barred as a matter of law because DOMA does not infringe on any of Plaintiffs' fundamental rights and is a legitimate exercise of the power granted to Congress by the Full Faith and Credit Clause.*fn5

  MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

  A complaint should not be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim." Bracewell v. Nicholson Air Services, Inc., 680 F.2d 103, 104 (11th Cir. 1982); see also Rickman v. Precisionaire, Inc., 902 F.Supp. 232, 233 (M.D. Fla. 1995) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). For Rule 12(b)6 purposes, the court considers as part of the complaint any written instrument filed with it as an exhibit. See Rule 10(c) Fed.R.Civ.P. ("A copy of any written instrument which is an exhibit to a pleading is a part thereof for all purposes."). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept plaintiff's well-pleaded facts as true, and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Quality Foods de Centro Am., S.A. v. Latin Am. Agribusiness Devel. Corp., 711 F.2d 989, 994-95 (11th Cir. 1983); Rickman, 902 F.Supp. at 233 (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232 (1974)). Regardless of the alleged facts, however, a court may dismiss a complaint on a dispositive issue of law. Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas District, 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993); Hunt v. American Bank & Trust Co., 783 F.2d 1011, 1013 (11th Cir. 1986).

  FULL FAITH AND CREDIT CLAUSE

  Plaintiffs' Complaint asserts that DOMA conflicts with the Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause. Article IV, Section I of the Constitution provides:
Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and Judicial Proceedings of every other State; And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.
  Plaintiffs argue that "[o]nce Massachusetts sanctioned legal same-gender marriage, all other states should be constitutionally required to uphold the validity of the marriage." (Complaint, ¶ 23). Plaintiffs believe that the differences in individuals' rights to enter into same-sex marriages among the States, such as Florida and Massachusetts, is exactly what the Full Faith and Credit Clause prohibits. They also assert that DOMA is beyond the scope of Congress' legislative power under the Full Faith and Credit Clause because Congress may only regulate what effect a law may have, it may not dictate that the law has no effect at all.

  This Court disagrees with Plaintiff's interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Congress' actions in adopting DOMA are exactly what the Framers envisioned when they created the Full Faith and Credit Clause. DOMA is an example of Congress exercising its powers under the Full Faith and Credit Clause to determine the effect that "any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage" has on the other States. 28 U.S.C. § 1738C. Congress' actions are an appropriate exercise of its power to regulate conflicts between the laws of two different States, in this case, conflicts over the validity of same-sex marriages.

  Adopting Plaintiffs' rigid and literal interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit would create a license for a single State to create national policy. See Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 423-24 (1979) ("Full Faith and Credit does not . . . enable one state to legislate for the other or to project its laws across state lines so as to preclude the other from prescribing for itself the legal consequences of acts within it.") (quoting Pacific Ins. Co. v. Industrial Accident Comm'n, 306 U.S. 493, 505-06 (1939)); Williams v. North Carolina, 317 U.S. 287, 296 (1942) ("Nor is there any authority which lends support to the view that the full faith and credit clause compels the courts of one state to subordinate the local policy of that state, as respects its domiciliaries, to the statutes of any other state."). The Supreme Court has clearly established that "the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not require a State to apply another State's law in violation of its own legitimate public policy." Hall, 440 U.S. at 422 (citing ...


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