Florida Gay Man Struggles to Get Out of Illegal Marriage
In a strange twist of events, a Florida gay man whose marriage was illegally performed by a court clerk in Iowa is being told that he is married and needs to file for divorce in order to be separated from his partner.
Joab Penney was married to his partner Joseph Parker by Grundy County deputy clerk Brigitte Van Nice in October of last year, according to the Associated Press. Van Nice forged the witness’ signatures, duped the couple out of $150 and falsely claimed she had officiated the couple’s Valentine’s Day wedding. Van Nice pleaded guilty to perjury and forgery charges.
Penney has come under fire after he made comments to the AP that led other publications to assume he was denouncing his homosexuality.
“I want to get married here to a woman, and I can’t,” Penney said. “It’s a major headache. I’ve changed my lifestyle because of all of this. It has offended me that much.”
After being labeled Queerty’s “Douche of the Week” Penney told SFGN that his words were rushed and not taken how he meant them.
My phone has been ringing off the hook since Monday,” Penney told SFGN. “Everyone in the media wants to know if I’m still gay.”
Penney said the reason he said he wanted to marry a woman is because he doesn’t feel he can be himself in America.
“We’re supposed to be the land of the free but people want to tell me how to live my life,” Penney said. “I feel pressured to change my lifestyle in order to be what other people say I should.”
Penney lives in the “small, redneck town” of Williston in central Florida. He said the hardest part of this ordeal is what he equates to mental abuse. His friends and family find out personal information about him just by watching the world news.
“It’s embarrassing,” Penney said. “It sucks when your parents see you like this on the news.”
Penney is finding himself getting deeper and deeper into a legal mess. He believes his marriage should be annulled as if it never happened. Penney said there are too many hoops to jump through and that officials in Iowa said he still had to file for divorce or petition for an annulment.
Florida lawyer and former Broward County Mayor Ken Keechl agrees that Penney’s situation is a “fascinating and unfortunate legal mess,” but that the man’s hands may be tied when it comes to having to file for divorce.
“There’s no doubt that he wanted to marry a man, and it’s unfortunate the clerk committed fraud in regards to his marriage,” Keechl told SFGN. “While I feel for him, the main intention here was to get married. It appears under Iowa he’s in the unfortunate situation that he has to file for divorce.”
Iowa divorce attorney Mark Hinshaw agrees. While Section 598 of the Iowa Code is open to interpretation, Hinshaw cites Penney’s intentions.
“It seems to me that he would have to file a petition with the court to divorce or annul,” Hinshaw told SFGN. “What [Van Nice] did might have been fraudulent, but the intention of getting married wasn’t.”
SFGN called the Grundy County Recorder office to see what steps Penney would have to take or if an annulment was automatic with the judge’s ruling. A woman who answered the phone said that the Recorder was not in the office to answer.
Penney now just wants this all to go away so he can get on with his life, but that can’t happen until his obligation to his marriage is over. He wants to know what has happened to his freedoms.
“I talked to the judge,” Penney said. “He told me I have to take care of the personal matter. It was like a big F-you. I think it’s because I’m gay.”
Is he still gay? Being the first person in the U.S. to be told his illegal marriage is legal, Penney doesn’t know what to think of the system of himself.
Said Penney as his voice trailed off: “I’ve tried to changed my lifestyle, I mean I haven’t … I don’t know. It’s just too much pressure. I’m so over this.”