In this week's CL, Publisher James Howard states his intention to marry his longtime partner on Jan. 6 — supposedly the first day same-sex couples can be wed in Florida.
But not so fast. When he called the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court's office today to find out how to obtain a marriage license, he was told that the office would not be issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
The confusion stems from a memo issued by Greenberg Traurig, the Miami-based law firm that represents county clerks. It's true that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in favor of same-sex marriage in FL, but the memo informed clerks that they could be breaking state law if they married gay couples, since (in the law firm's view) the Hinkle ruling applies only in Washington County, where the lawsuit was filed.
It's possible that Judge Hinkle will issue a clarification of his ruling, which could settle the confusion. Meanwhile, Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith is warning clerks who refuse to issue licenses that they will be "hit with costly legal challenges" and is urging supporters to call their county clerks to let them know "denying marriage is unconstitutional."
Howard, once he revealed that he was publisher of Creative Loafing, was referred to the communications department, which yielded a statement from Clerk of Court Pat Frank:
"We are waiting for clarification of Judge Hinkle's order. If the court permits us to marry same-sex couples we are prepared to do so."
(The Tampa Tribune reported that, in the event of such a clarification, Frank is making plans to marry couples on Jan. 6 in downtown Tampa's Joe Chillura Courthouse Square.)
An email sent out today by Equality Florida suggests that county clerks are about to get a lot of calls and emails.
"Here's what we need you to do," says CEO Smith in the email. "Contact your Clerk and let her or him know you expect them to uphold their oath to protect the rights of all as guaranteed by the US Constitution and issue a marriage license… Get Everyone You Know to Contact the Clerk — Everyone you would invite to your wedding. All your friends. Get everyone you know to make sure the Clerks understand that denying marriage is unconstitutional."
The email includes links to talking points and contact info for county clerks' offices.