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By Dan Sweeney, Sun Sentinel (TNS)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The anticipated start of same-sex marriage in Florida on Jan. 6 is now uncertain after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas agreed to hear arguments over a federal judge’s decision to overturn the state’s ban.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the Supreme Court to delay same-sex marriage because the federals appeals court has not ruled on the validity of the state ban.

She pointed out there is a conflict among federal appellate rulings — the 6th District upheld a state marriage ban while all other federal appeals courts that have heard such cases have overturned these bans.

Bondi also claimed the likelihood was the Supreme Court would have to hear this case, and that it would, upon review, “likely reaffirm the States’ nearly exclusive authority to define marriage and hold that the Fourteenth Amendment allows states to define marriage as Florida has.”

Federal judge Robert Hinkle overturned the ban Aug. 21 but delayed implementation until Jan. 5, meaning marriage licenses could be issued as of Jan. 6.

Attorneys seeking same-sex marriage have until 5 p.m. Thursday to present their case for why the hold should be lifted.

Thomas is the justice who accepts requests from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama. On Dec. 3, that appellate court refused to delay Hinkle’s ruling.

After receiving arguments from all parties involved in the suit, Thomas can either act alone to continue the hold, allow it to be lifted on Jan. 5, or else bring the matter to his colleagues on the Court.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has been asked to continue such a stay, but it has previously turned down such requests.

However Thomas “has indicated in previous, similar cases that he would have granted a stay,” said Elizabeth Schwartz, an attorney involved in same-sex marriage lawsuits in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that are going through state appellate court.

Thomas has no deadline by which to decide what to do in this case, but in previous instances, the court and individual justices have ruled quickly.

“I don’t think anyone was surprised that (Thomas) asked for more information, and I think it’s also likely he’ll want to continue this with the full court,” Schwartz said. “I do think they’ll rule on it possibly on Friday.”

AFP Photo/Karen Bleier

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