On January 1, a federal judge ruled that Florida county clerks should start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples beginning on January 6.
Clerks in at least five counties in Florida say they will end courthouse weddings so they won’t have to marry gay couples next week. Thanks to a ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, clerks must still issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling clarifies that all 67 court clerks in Florida should start to issue licenses on Tuesday, when a stay expires on the judge’s original decision which invalidates the state’s ban on gay marriage.
“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” Ronnie Fussell, Duval County clerk of courts, told The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union. “Personally it would go against my beliefs to perform a ceremony that is other than that.”
Fussell, along with clerks in Baker, Clay, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties, say they won’t marry opposite or same-sex couples. On Friday, staffers in Duval County married their final couple. This is until the courts or lawmakers decide to compel clerks offices to do otherwise. Additional counties will stop at the end of the day on January 5, before the new rules are in effect.
“In the courthouse, there was a room specifically for these ceremonies that taxpayers paid for, and now no one is going to get the benefit of that,” said Jacksonville lawyer Belkis Plata of Plata Schott Attorneys & Counselors at Law.
The Duval County Clerk of Courts Office has offered a $30 ceremony to be performed immediately after qualification of a $93.50 marriage license…until now.
“They’ve had a difficult time for years as it is, getting their relationships acknowledged,” Plata said. “Now that they’ve had this huge victory, now they’re being shut down somewhere else. We want to help them as much as we can.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has appealed Hinkle’s ruling, but there has been a refusal to issue a stay, by the Supreme Court, as the lawsuit plays out.
On Jan. 9, Plata’s law firm, in very close proximity to the Duval County Courthouse, plans to start officiating weddings for both same-sex and straight couples for the same fee as the clerk’s office. “It doesn’t matter what our personal beliefs are,” Plata said. “We’ve all had friends who have been in relationships we don’t agree with, but who are we to say who they be with or not be with? If it’s the law, you have to follow it.”
According to Florida state law, couples in these counties will need to find a notary public, judicial officer, or an ordained minister to marry them because they will be without a county clerk to serve as an officiant.