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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 26, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 52
Showdown in Florida - SCOTUS turns down stay on marriages; state officials stall
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Showdown in Florida - SCOTUS turns down stay on marriages; state officials stall

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A show down over same-sex marriage is shaping up in Florida, as the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request to stay a lower court ruling in favor of equality, but state officials resist issuing marriage licenses to Gay and Lesbian couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi's request for a stay on December 19, clearing the way for marriages to begin in Florida on January 6. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinckle struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage on August 21, but Bondi wanted to hold up marriages pending appeal.

Although Bondi subsequently issued a statement saying that 'the Supreme Court has now spoken, and the stay will end on January 5,' the law - which includes criminal penalties for county clerks who issue licenses to same-sex couples - remains on the books, and is still enforceable according to some state officials.

Shortly after the Supreme Court announced it would not hold up Florida marriages any longer, the Florida Clerks Association - a professional group representing county clerks - issued 'legal advice' to its members telling them not to issue licenses to Gay and Lesbian applicants.

On December 22, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said he was prepared to officiate at a mass same-sex wedding at City Hall on January 6, but the County Clerk's office of Orange County, where Orlando is located, declined to issue licenses to same-sex couples, saying a private law firm had advised them they could be charged with a misdemeanor if they did so.

The same day, all four Tampa Bay-area county clerks announced they would turn away same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses.

'We're sympathetic but we have to follow what we know is the direction of the court, based on advice from our legal counsel,' Pinellas Clerk of Court Ken Burke said December 22.

On December 23, Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Rubin, the losing defendant in the case before Judge Hinckle, asked the Eleventh Circuit Court to clarify the details of the stay's expiration.

Also on December 23, Equality Florida and the National Center for Lesbian Rights today issued a joint memo to all 67 Florida county clerks advising them that 'Florida county court clerks should follow Judge Hinkle's ruling and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning January 6, 2015.'

The advice provided to the Clerks Association in legal memoranda from a private law firm is incorrect in key respects, Equality Florida said, and 'clerks who follow Judge Hinkle's ruling could not be held criminally liable for doing so because they would not have the required specific criminal intent,' even if the law prohibiting them from issuing same-sex licenses remains on the books.

Meanwhile Florida State Attorney Jeff Ashton said on December 23 that he will not prosecute court clerks if they issue marriage licenses to Gay and Lesbian couples on January 6 or after. That announcement seemed to remove the last major obstacle to same-sex couples getting married in the state.

However, a spokesperson for Orange County Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell said that Ashton's decision has not changed her position. She still has no plans to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the spokesperson said.

On the other hand, Osceola County Clerk Armando Ramirez said Ashton's decision took the pressure off him. 'Then I think because of that, there is no reason not to proceed issuing marriage licenses one minute after midnight January 6,' Ramirez said.

Hinckle's August 21 decision is still on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit, but both the circuit court and the Supreme Court have declined to stay marriage in the state, indicating that both courts believe the state's appeal will likely fail.

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