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Florida became the 36th state to legalize same-sex “marriage” Tuesday, after an injunction blocking enforcement of U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling that the state’s marriage protection law unconstitutional expired without intervention from a higher court.

Most counties in Florida proceeded as if the issue had been decided, but state officials are still pursuing appeals with the 11th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.  While the 11th Circuit is unlikely to overturn Hinkle’s decision, the entire nation awaits a possible decision from the Supreme Court, which has so far refrained from directly ruling on the constitutionality of laws that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Meanwhile, officials in at least three counties refused to participate in same-sex “wedding” ceremonies Tuesday, including in Duval County, where Court Clerk Ronnie Fussell closed down the courthouse chapel entirely, indicating he’d rather prohibit all marriage ceremonies rather than allow same-sex couples to “marry” there.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed by” the higher courts’ failure to act in time to overturn or extend the stay of Hinkle’s ruling.

“In redefining marriage to include same sex couples, the judge has in effect overturned a state constitutional amendment approved by nearly 62% of the electorate in a 2008 ballot initiative,” the bishops wrote.  “How society understands marriage has great public significance. Because of this, redefining civil ‘marriage’ to include two persons of the same sex will have far-reaching consequences in society.”

“Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults,” the bishops wrote. “Such a redefinition of marriage does nothing to safeguard a child’s right to a mother and father and to be raised in a stable family where his or her development and well-being is served to the greatest extent possible.”

The bishops warned that the “[r]edefinition of marriage will have implications not yet fully understood,” and “threatens both religious liberty and the freedom of individuals to conscientiously object as already seen in those states that have redefined marriage to accommodate same sex couples.”

Wrote the bishops: “Marriage based on the complementarity of the sexes is the lifeblood of family, and family is the foundation of our society. The crisis that sadly the family is experiencing today will only be aggravated by imposing this redefinition of marriage. Society must rediscover the irreplaceable roles of both mother and father who bring unique gifts to the education and rearing of children.”

John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy council, echoed the concerns of the Catholic bishops.  “The day is going to come very soon where America is going to wake up and say, 'Whoa! Wait a second! I wanted two guys to live together. I didn't want the fundamental transformation of society.'”

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to review the Florida case on January 9.

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