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Florida clerks announce plans to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Florida clerks announce plans to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples
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Updated: 10:00 p.m. EST

MIAMI — Court clerks around Florida are beginning to announce plans to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples next week following a federal judge’s ruling.

Many clerks had previously been reluctant to issue the licenses, and some feared they might face criminal charges. But U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling on New Year’s Day clarified that all 67 Florida clerks are obligated to begin issuing gay marriage licenses starting Tuesday.

Reversing its previous guidance, lawyers for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers said the clarification issued by Hinkle means that county clerks should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or run the risk of being sued.

“We are advising them it’s in their best interest to accept the authority that Judge Hinkle has given them and to begin issuing licenses,” Greenberg Traurig attorney Fred Baggett, the clerks association’s general counsel, told The News Service of Florida.

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Clerks around the state had a lengthy conference call late Friday morning, in which they were told that U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle had clarified his Washington County ruling to mean that county clerks should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or risk being sued.

According to the Gainsville Sun, all of the state’s clerks have said they will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning Tuesday.

Also Friday, an Osceola County judge dismissed a conservative group’s lawsuit challenging the county clerk’s right to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying Hinkle’s ruling made the lawsuit moot.

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Some clerks, such as Broward County clerk Howard Forman, will begin issuing licenses at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and have a group wedding at 3 a.m. Osceola County and Palm Beach County are also planning post-midnight nuptials.

Duval, Baker, and Clay counties said that while they will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, they will not perform any wedding ceremony at their respective courthouse because they do not want to officiate same-sex weddings.

Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties have made similar announcements, and the Wakulla County clerk’s office stopped performing wedding ceremonies on Oct. 1 as part of a cost-cutting measure.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Calhoun, Liberty, Franklin, and Pasco counties will also discontinue all courthouse wedding ceremonies. Bay County’s website indicates it no longer offers marriage ceremonies, though it is unclear when that policy was changed.

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Still awaiting final decisions from judges on same-sex marriage licenses are Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, where circuit judges ruled the state’s ban on same-sex weddings is unconstitutional but imposed stays that remain in effect.

In Miami, Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel is holding a Monday morning hearing that could result in that stay ending.

In gay-friendly Monroe County, the attorney for a gay couple planning to get married as soon as possible filed a motion Friday asking for that stay to be dissolved. The couple, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, filled out their license application Friday at Key West’s Monroe County Courthouse before court clerk Amy Heavilin.

Associated Press contributed to this report.
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