Court clerks across Florida continue to be stuck in limbo while the fate of same-sex marriage remains at a standstill.
A federal judge recently ruled the gay marriage ban to be unconstitutional and marked Jan. 6 as the day same-sex marriage would become legal in Florida. But legal counsel is advising all clerks that a federal judge's ruling applies only to Washington County. Any other county in Florida attempting to issue a same-sex marriage license would be in violation of the law and could be charged with a misdemeanor and potentially face jail time.
"There's a question about whether that really applies to use and whether we should be issuing licenses," Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell said.
Moore Russell said it's not up to her to decide who can and can't get a marriage license.
"We're here just to wait to be told how we're going to administer the law," she said, adding that direction must come from an appropriate jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court.
Flagler County Clerk of the Circuit Court Gail Wadsworth said Monday: "We won't issue licenses until there is a binding order from a court of proper jurisdiction."
The Osceola County Clerk of Court issued the following statement Dec. 19: "In the event that the United States Supreme Court or other binding court issues an opinion which invalidates Florida's same sex marriage ban prior to the end of the business day on January 5, 2015, the office of the Osceola County Clerk of Court will open at 12:01 a.m., on January 6, 2015, for a period of two (2) hours in order to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Licenses will be issued to the first thirty (30) couples, providing the appropriate information, who appear at the Osceola County Clerk's office, 2 Courthouse Square, Kissimmee, Florida, 34741, before 2:00 a.m. The office of the Osceola County Clerk of Court will re-open at 8:00 a.m., on January 6, 2015, for business as usual, and will continue issuing marriage licenses at that time."
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the beginning of same-sex marriages.
If no direction is given by Jan. 6, couples seeking a union could be shut out, and that's because legal advisers have told county clerks that criminal action could be taken against them if they sign on the dotted line.
"I have not received any opinion that if I issued a license, I could not be prosecuted , and so that's a concern for me as a clerk and as an individual, but I'm also concerned about our citizens because there's a lot of uncertainty about what this actually means," Moore Russell said. "And so because of that, I would hate to issue a license that would then be considered null and void later."
Instructions for county clerks might not be decided in time for the ban to be lifted. It will be up to each clerk's office to decide whether to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples. We reached out to State Attorney Jeff Ashton's office to find out whether his employees would be prosecuted for issuing marriage licenses.
The statement issued by Ashton's office is as follows:
The State Attorney does not announce in advance which cases he will prosecute. If he receives a complaint, that complaint will be investigated and evaluated, as other complaints are, and a charging decision will be made at the appropriate time.