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Florida: Recognition of same-sex marriages (SSMs)

Part 16: 2014-DEC:
U.S. Supreme Court refuses to extend stay.
Same-sex couples in some counties expected be
able to marry in January. Chaos forming?
Reactions to the developing confusion.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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2015-DEC-15: Attorney General Pam Bondi filed request for an extension of the District Court stay with the U.S. Supreme Court (Cont'd):

Daniel Tilley of the American Civil Liberties Association of Florida (ACLU-FL) issued a statement, remarking on the state's emergency appeal to the high court:

"It is unsurprising, given how hard Governor Scott, his appointees, and Attorney General Bondi have fought to keep loving and committed couples from getting married and having their marriages recognized in Florida, that they would keep up this dead-end fight. But with just weeks until the ruling is scheduled to go into effect, it is disappointing.

Florida families have waited long enough for the end of a ban that a federal court has declared unconstitutional. Since October, the Supreme Court has refused all requests to stay rulings striking down the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage in other states. We are hopeful they will do the same here so that loving couples and their children can get the protections for which they have waited so long." 1

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2014-DEC-19: As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court rejects Florida's request to extend the stay:

Justice Clarence Thomas is the Justice who handles emergency requests from the three states and two territories under the jurisdiction of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Justice Thomas had the option to decide Florida's request or to refer it to the full court. He chose the latter.

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By a 7 to 2 margin, the Justices rejected Attorney General Bondi's request to extend the stay. Only the two Justices who are generally regarded as the most conservative on the court -- Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- voted to extend the stay. As is customary for the Supreme Court, the Justices did not offer an explanation for their decision.

John Gallagher writes for Queerty, a pro-LGBT equality group whose humorous motto is: "Free of an agenda, except that gay one," He feels that this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is enormously significant. He wrote an article titled:

"All over but the shouting. By letting weddings [by same-sex couples] start In Florida, the [U.S.] Supreme Court just made it clear that marriage equality is a done deal." 2

He wrote:

"On the surface, it seems like just one more piece of really good news. On Friday night, the Supreme Court refused to stop marriage equality in Florida, which means that weddings can start on Jan. 6. That’s a big deal for a lot of reasons: Florida is one of the most populous states without marriage equality, same-sex marriage is now officially in place in the South (following the Carolinas, and the inevitability of marriage equality is now stronger than ever. It’s also a thumb in the eye for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, the thrice-married Republican who has made a career out of blocking marriage equality ..."

"But the ruling goes far beyond Florida. The Supreme Court just essentially signaled that marriage equality is a settled issue." 2

"Alton," a reader of the Queerty, article disagrees that it's "all over." He posted a comment:

"This decision by the court in no way means that same-sex marriage is 'assured'. It only means the Supremes feel they have no interest in preventing the lower court’s ruling from being put into place at this time. As far as marriage equality nation-wide goes, we’re still in the same position we were before the Florida decision: waiting for the Supremes to decide on a case to take up and settle the issue once and for all. Given the way things have played out, there’s no reason to believe the final verdict will be anything but a 5-4 decision in favor of equality, but that is by no means a certainty." 2

Laura Green, writing for the Palm Beach Post, said:

"... the state appears to have exhausted its judicial means of holding up marriages when the stay expires at the close of business on Jan. 5. That is, unless the Eleventh Circuit issues a ruling first upholding the state’s constitutional amendment." 3

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi quickly issued a statement:

"Tonight, the United States Supreme Court denied the State’s request for a stay in the case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. 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." 4

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Massive snafu forming:

Instead of the uniformity sought by the Attorney General, chaos may be forming on the horizon.

Although AG Bondi confirmed in her statement that the stay will end on JAN-05, she does not indicate whether all same-sex couples -- who are qualified by age and by not being close relatives -- will be actually able to apply for marriage licenses starting on JAN-06, and subsequently marry throughout the state.

  • Some believe that the ruling by District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle applies to all same-sex couples who live in counties throughout Florida.

  • Others believe that it only applies to the clerk's office in Washington County where the plaintiff couple Schlairet and Russ resides.

  • Lora Bell, the clerk of that county, is uncertain whether the ruling applies to any and all qualified same-sex couples who apply to her for a marriage license, or only to the one same-sex couple mentioned in the lawsuit. Her lawyers have written to Judge Hinkle stating:

    "The Clerk requests clarification as to whether the Injunction requires that the Clerk only issue marriage licenses to Stephen Schlairet and Ozzie Russ as specifically set forth in the Injunction, both of whom are parties to this matter, or if the Injunction requires that the Clerk issue marriage licenses to all [qualified] same-sex couples who apply once the stay expires at the end of the day on January 5, 2015." 5

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Reactions to the developing confusion are mixed:

  • Howard Simon, is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU-FL). They represent SAVE, a Florida LGBT equal rights group, and eight same-sex plaintiff couples in the case. Simon said:

    "We’re preparing a response, hoping that this will be the occasion that Judge Hinkle saves the state from chaos and that he will affirm what we have been saying, that no public official should be enforcing an unconstitutional law." 5

  • The law firm that advises the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers Association has advised the clerks that, in their opinion, the District Court ruling only applies to Washington County. They recommend that their clients in the other 66 counties ignore the court decision and continue to refuse applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples. 5

    If their belief is correct,then a clerk who issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple could face up to one year in prison and a file of $1,000! 6

  • Betsy White, an attorney who represents two of the same-sex plaintiff couples in the federal lawsuit believes that the clerk's law firm are "dead wrong." She sees the potential of 66 separate lawsuits, each to force a single county clerk to obey the court ruling. 4

  • Staff Attorney Daniel Tilley of the ACLU-FL said:

    "We expect public officials in all of Florida's 67 counties to understand the significance of this development and [we] look forward to full implementation of Judge Hinkle's decision across our state." 7

  • U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D) and Osceola County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb sent a letter to Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton, saying: 5

    "Opponents of marriage equality are using the threat of criminal prosecution of clerks of court to delay implementation of the judge’s ruling. We call upon you to confirm that unless Judge Hinkle’s ruling is reversed ... you will exercise your prosecutorial discretion to eschew any criminal action of any kind against the Clerks of Orange and Osceola Counties for adhering to the Court’s mandate to issue licenses to otherwise qualifying same-sex couples. 5

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above menu. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Bondi Files Application to Stay Preliminary Injunctions in Same Sex Marriage Case," WCTV, Tallahassee, FL, 2014-DEC-15, at: http://www.wctv.tv/
  2. John Gallagher, "By Letting Weddings Start In Florida, The Supreme Court Just Made It Clear That Marriage Equality Is A Done Deal," Querty, 201-DEC-20, at: http://www.queerty.com/
  3. Laura Green, "Florida’s request to hold gay marriage rejected," Palm Beach Post, 2014-DEC-19, at: http://postonpolitics.blog.palmbeachpost.com/
  4. Rich Shopes & Patty Ryan, "Supreme Court denies stay in Florida gay marriage case; couples could marry after Jan. 5," Tampa Bay Times, 2014-DEC-19, at: http://www.tampabay.com/
  5. Steve Rothaus, "Washington County clerk: Do I have to issue marriage license to one same-sex couple or to all same-sex couples?," Miami Herald, 2014-DEC-23, at: http://www.miamiherald.com/
  6. Warren Richey, "Florida argues judge's gay marriage ruling only applies to one couple," Christian Science Monitor, 2014-DEC-30, at: http://www.csmonitor.com/
  7. Jason Hanna, "Supreme Court declines to block Florida same-sex marriages," CNN, 2014-DEC-20, at: http://www.cnn.com/

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Florida > here

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-DEC-16
Latest update: 2014-DEC-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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