Florida couples who dream of same-sex marriage in their home state may have to slay yet another dragon – the county clerks.
After the U.S. Supreme Court denied a motion to stay same-sex marriage in Florida, same-sex couples rejoiced, making plans to get married as soon as Jan. 6. And Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi seems to have given up saying “Regardless of the ruling it has always been our goal to have uniformity throughout Florida until the final resolution of the numerous challenges to the voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has now spoken, and the stay will end on January 5.”
Most observers thought Bondi would be the last obstacle to same-sex marriage in Florida. That turned out not to be so when the law firm for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers of the state issued a memo stating that any clerks who move forward with issuing same-sex marriage licenses may be subject a prosecution and additional fines for violating state law.
“The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers’ opinion regarding the legality of issuing same-gender marriage licenses in the State of Florida, as previously stated by our general counsel, remains unchanged,” said Executive Director Kenneth A. Kent. “Numerous cases support the holding that the denial of the state’s motion to stay by the U.S. Supreme Court last Friday was not a decision on the issue of same-gender marriage.”
Miami Attorney Elizabeth F. Schwartz said the counsel made the decision under the claim that the Supreme Court decision was not binding law. She said the counsel believes that because the decision was written in a certain way, it’s unclear from the clerks’ perspective whether it’s applicable to the whole state or just Washington County.
“The law is really clear that this opinion is binding statewide,” she said, “so I don’t agree, and I think that all clerks need to issue marriage licenses.”
She also said its unlikely people will be put in jail for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“I think it would just be a political nightmare,” she said. “I don’t think they’re going to put anyone in jail so that’s why they need to hear the decision from the court.
In a press release, the counsel said it recommends Washington County file an emergency motion to determine whether the decision applies to all of Florida or just the county.
Washington County asked the judge to clarify his order.
All four county clerks’ offices in South Florida — Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe — said they will wait until further clarification before making any decisions.
Harvey Ruvin, the Miami-Dade Clerk, released a statement urging clerks to remember they must uphold the law regardless of their opinion on it.
While Palm Beach County’s clerk Sharon Bock said, “Regardless of my personal opinion that this is a civil rights issue, I am constitutionally bound to uphold the law.”
The Associated Press polled the 67 clerks in Florida to see where each of them stood on the issue. Out of the 53 that responded 46 said they definitely would not issue licenses without further clarification. Six of them weren’t sure. And only 1 clerk outside of Washington County said he would definitely start issuing licenses.
"We won't waste any time," Osceola County's Armando Ramirez told the AP.
Lea Brown, a Palm Beach pastor, was planning an event, “Nothing’s Going to Stop us Now,” to celebrate same-sex marriage legalization, but said it might now be a rally.
“It’s going to be an event to really remind us to be together,” she said, “remind us of the power have together, to bless people’s marriages and love in all its forms in the community and get people ready for the next day and celebrating.”
She said there will be an event with speaker on Jan. 5 at the Metropolitan Community Church in Palm Beach Gardens and a gathering Jan. 6 at the court house.