Clerks in at least five Florida counties say they’ll end courthouse weddings for everyone so they won’t have to marry same-sex couples starting next week.
They’ll still be forced to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, thanks to U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling on New Year’s Day. His Thursday ruling clarifies that all 67 Florida court clerks should begin issuing the licenses starting Tuesday, when a stay expires on Hinkle’s original decision invalidating the state’s ban on same-sex marriage expires.
“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.”
So Fussell, who goes to a Southern Baptist church, and clerks in Baker, Clay, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties say they’ll stop marrying both opposite- and same-sex couples.
Staffers in Duval County married their final couple Friday — at least until lawmakers or the courts decide to compel clerks offices to offer weddings for all couples. Other counties will stop at the end of the day Monday before the new rules go into 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.
Until now, the Duval County Clerk of Courts Office offered couples the option of a $30 ceremony right after they qualified for their $93.50 marriage license. Florida residents have a three-day waiting period for a marriage license unless they pass a premarital preparation class from a registered provider, and Duval County knocks more than $30 off the fee if they certify that they’ve had the course. (At least one online provider is touting its course as a way to avoid delays in obtaining a license.)
“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.”
More than 3 in 5 Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2008 that prohibited same-sex marriage. But a series of rulings from judges in the state has found the ban to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees of equal treatment and due process.
State Attorney General Pam Bondi has appealed of Hinkle’s ruling, but the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to issue a stay while the lawsuit plays out.
So starting Jan. 9, Plata’s law firm, about four blocks from the Duval County Courthouse, plans to start officiating weddings for both gay 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.”
Without a county court clerk to serve as an officiant, couples in the affected counties will have to find an ordained minister, judicial officer or notary public to marry them, according to Florida state law.
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SOURCE: USA Today / WTLV- and WJXX-TV, Jacksonville, Fla.