53 of the 67 clerks of court in Florida have said in a survey from Associated Press that they will not issue marriage licences on 5 January 2015, the day that the stay on a ruling overturning the same-sex marriage ban is supposed to be lifted.
The reason behind this response lies in a complication of the ruling by US District Judge Robert Hinkle in the case of Brenner v Scott and Grimsley v Scott – the two cases which ended in a ruling that Florida’s voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The ruling was stayed, pending appeal. An appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to extend the stay was denied on 3 December 2014 and the US Supreme Court soon after rejected the request to hear the case there. The Washington County Clerk of Court filed an emergency request asking to clarify if the decision applied to Florida as a whole or only to the counties immediately concerned with the case. Since then there has been significant controversy about the interpretation of the ruling which has groups both for and against same-sex marriage gearing up for another showdown in Florida.
Dwight Brock, Collier County Clerk of Court, said that if counties do not decide across the board to grant or deny licenses on January 5th, the results could be ‘disastrous’.
Pat Frank, clerk for Hillsborough County, expressed the anxiety that several other clerks have also expressed – they support LGBT+ rights, but they want to act within the law.
‘I’ve been with the gay community on the issue of equality, forever,’ Pat said. ‘I want to see this resolved. The only thing that concerns me are the penalties that might affect my office.’
According to the Florida Court Clerks’ Association, a clerk who grants a same-sex couple a marriage license erroneously could result in fines upwards of $1,000 and up to a year in prison.
A possible solution has been to send same-sex couples to county judges. Florida county judges are allowed to issue marriage licenses as well as wave some requirements, including a three-day waiting period between getting a license and getting married.
LGBT+ groups have threatened legal action if marriage licences are not issued to couples across the state when the stay is lifted.