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Religious Tolerance logo

Florida: Recognition of same-sex marriages (SSMs)

Part 17: Second half of 2014-DEC:
Chaos forming whether same-sex couples will
be able to marry throughout Florida in 2015-JAN.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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2014-DEC-15: Chaos forming (Cont'd):

There are a total of 67 counties in Florida. As of mid-2014-DEC, it is unclear how many of the counties will start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on and after 2015-JAN-06 when the stay imposed by District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle expires, and his pro-marriage equality ruling becomes effective.

By mid-December, there was no indication whether Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) or District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle would issue a statement clarifying this mater. Fortunately, they had three weeks to respond before the stay runs ends.

The county clerks are in an awkward position; they are caught "between a rock and a hard place."

  • Nadine Smith is the executive director of Equality Florida, another very active LGBT equal rights group. Referring to the memo from Greenberg Traurig, which advised Florida court clerks & comptrollers to withhold marriage licenses from same-sex couples, she said:

    "A law firm memo does not override a federal judge’s order and the actions of the 11th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. They’re actually exaggerating the risk on one hand and ignoring the extraordinary risk clerks will face in lawsuits and damages for violating the constitutional rights of every couple they turn away. 1

  • However, Attorney General Pam Bondi has repeatedly shown her opposition to marriage equality by taking every opportunity to preserve the ban on same-sex marriages -- even to the extreme of asking the U.S. Supreme Court to extend District Court Hinkle's stay. She did this, even though the probability that the high court would comply with her wishes was extremely low. County clerks have a reasonable fear that she would charge clerks with a misdemeanor if any of them issue licenses to same-sex couples.

The clerks also face a conflict based upon their oath of office:

  • It requires them to obey the state Constitution. This bans same-sex marriage. But if they refuse to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, they will be exposed to a possible lawsuit from one or more same-sex couples.

  • On the other hand, the oath also requires them to obey the federal Constitution whose 14th Amendment contains Due Process and Equal Opportunity clauses which require states to treat same-sex couples equally to opposite-sex couples. A federal District Court judge has confirmed this.

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Implications to the thousands of same-sex couples who hope to marry:

To further complicate the matter, the validity of marriages solemnized as a result of a marriage license supplied outside Washington County may be in doubt. 2 Some court could decide in the future that only same-sex marriage licenses issued in Washington County were legal. They might even decide that only the one plaintiff couple's marriage licenses is legal.

It could be a lot worse. According to the StateOfFlorida.com web site:

"Every marriage license is issued by a county court judge or clerk of the circuit court. ... Marriage licenses are issued by counties and you can apply for your license at any county clerk's. ... You can get married in any county in Florida, regardless of where you obtained your marriage license." 3

Thus, a Florida same-sex couple could travel from their own county to Washington County, apply for a marriage license, and later get married anywhere in the state and be certain that they are actually married -- assuming that the StateOfFlorida web site is correct and that District Court Judge Hinkle's ruling applies to all qualified same-sex couples and not just to the plaintiff couple.

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Second half of 2014-DEC: Further remarks and developments:

  • Daniel Tilley of the ACLU-Florida appears optimistic. He referred to the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to extend the stay, saying:

    "As we explained to the court, every day that the ban remains in place, [Florida] couples are suffering real harms. We are grateful that the court recognized that, and that as a result, those days are finally coming to an end." 4

    and:

    "We are ecstatic what the Supreme Court has done today. We are so happy for our plaintiffs and all our same-sex couples who can go ahead and get married and have their marriages recognized in their home states." 2

  • The Osceola County clerk's office is expected to open for two hours, starting at 12:01 AM on the morning of 2015-JAN-06 so that same-sex couples who had previously filed marriage license applications would be able to pick them up as quickly as possible. 5 So, it appears that licenses will be available in at least two of Florida's counties and that same-sex marriages that have been legally solemnized out-of-state will be recognized in Florida starting 2915-JAN-06. 7 However nothing is certain.

  • "abirch," responded to an article in The Guardian and posted a comment:

    "In a lot of ways this is much better than it being passed by vote or even by legislative action. This makes clear that it is a right guaranteed by the Constitution rather than by some whim of the legislature or of a vote of the people each of which can be revoked. The courts are absolutely the right venue for this, because this is concerning rights being the same for all people not because of an easily revocable legal change but because it is a basic right we all have under the constitution, the right of ALL being EQUAL before the law." 7

  • The Tampa Bay Times reports that the Clerks of Court in at least Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties in the Bay area of Florida will refuse to handle requests for marriage licenses by same-sex couples. Ken Burke of Pinellas County said:

    "We're sympathetic but we have to follow what we know is the direction of the court, based on advice from our legal counsel." 8

  • Hilarie Bass is co-president of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, which advises the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers Association on legal matters. She said:

    "The denial of a stay is not a ruling on the merits of the marriage-equality issue. Florida law continues to prohibit a Clerk from issuing a marriage license to a same-gender couple and provides criminal sanctions for doing so." 8

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  • The Associated Press sent inquiries to all of Florida's 67 county clerks. Out of the 53 who replied:

    • 1 clerk, Armando Ramirez of Osceola County said that they would be issuing licenses to same-sex couples;
    • 46 clerks said they would not issue such licenses ;
    • 6 are undecided as of late December. 9

  • Oasco County clerk, Paula O'Neill, said:
  • "I'm not going to break the law. I'm not going to issue licenses until it's legal." 9

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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. 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/
  2. 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/
  3. "Florida Marriage Guide," 2014, State of Florida, at: http://www.stateofflorida.com/
  4. Jason Hanna, "Supreme Court declines to block Florida same-sex marriages," CNN, 2014-DEC-20, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  5. Rene Stultman, "Pam Bondi files appeal, asking U.S. Supreme Court to delay gay marriage in Florida," Orlando Sentinel, 2014-DEC-15, at: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/
  6. "Bondi Files Application to Stay Preliminary Injunctions in Same Sex Marriage Case," WCTV, Tallahassee, FL, 2014-DEC-15, at: http://www.wctv.tv/
  7. Amanda Holpuch, "Gay marriages to begin in Florida after supreme court rejects delay," The Guardian, 2014-DEC-20, at: http://www.theguardian.com/
  8. Tony Marrero, "Bay area court clerks will not issue same-sex marriage licenses Jan. 6," Tampa Bay Times, 2014-DEC-22, at: http://www.tampabay.com/
  9. Mike Schneider & Melissa Nelson-Gabriel, "Florida clerks won't give gays marriage licenses," WTSP-TV, 2014-DEC-26, at: http://www.wtsp.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-05
Latest update: 2014-DEC-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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