U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle has issued an order clarifying that all Florida clerks should begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the stay expires at the end of the day on Jan. 5.
Some clerks had indicated they would not issue licenses and others said they were uncertain whether they could issue licenses in Florida. At the same time, some Christian right groups in the state have been encouraging clerks to ignore the judicial order.
But Hinkle late this week explained that while his injunction applies only to the named defendants, because his Aug. 21 ruling held that the marriage ban is unconstitutional, the Constitution requires clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He further advised that if any clerks do not follow the ruling, couples denied marriage licenses could intervene in the case to get injunctions against non-compliant clerks.
The court’s Aug. 21 ruling holding the marriage ban unconstitutional was the result of two cases — one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union ACLU of Florida on behalf of eight couples, a Fort Myers widow, and SAVE, South Florida’s largest LGBT rights organization; the other by Jacksonville attorneys William Sheppard and Sam Jacobson on behalf of two couples.
The Washington County Clerk of Court, named as a defendant in the case brought by Sheppard and Jacobson, filed a motion for clarification asking Judge Hinkle to clarify the scope of the injunction. Many Florida clerks of court had been waiting for the clarification provided by today’s order to determine whether they should prepare to issue marriage licenses when the stay on the injunction expires.
Responding to today’s order ACLU of Florida LGBT rights staff attorney Daniel Tilley stated, “This is a wonderful development. Judge Hinkle has made clear that his ruling that declared Florida’s marriage ban unconstitutional means that all Florida clerks should begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the stay expires at the end of the day on Jan. 5.
“Clerks who were waiting for clarification from the court as to their obligations now have that clarity and should prepare to issue marriage licenses to couples in their counties waiting to marry as soon as the stay expires.
“We expect all clerks to respect the ruling. But if not, we are committed to ensuring marriage equality in all 67 counties in Florida and we would like to hear from any couples that are wrongfully denied a license after the stay expires.
ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon added, “This is a New Year’s Day present from federal judge Robert Hinkle – he has given Florida the roadmap to an orderly transition to being a state that treats all its people equally.
“We are thankful that Judge Hinkle agreed with us that the Constitution does not tolerate discrimination and that, beginning Tuesday January 6th, all clerks in Florida have an obligation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples requesting them.
Attorneys from the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida and Stephen F. Rosenthal of Podhurst Orseck, P.A. represent the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging Florida’s marriage ban.