News (USA)

Some Florida counties to end courthouse weddings to avoid same-sex ceremonies

Some Florida counties to end courthouse weddings to avoid same-sex ceremonies
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — More than a dozen Florida county clerks say they will stop offering courthouse wedding ceremonies, partly to avoid performing those ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla.
Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla. Wikimedia

The clerks of court in Duval, Clay and Baker counties say they will have no choice but to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting next week when Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is set to expire. However, they have decided to end all courthouse weddings to avoid performing those ceremonies for same-sex couples, among other reasons.

The clerks in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties also have made similar announcements.

Duval County Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell tells The Florida Times-Union that none of his staff members who currently officiate wedding ceremonies felt comfortable performing same-sex weddings.

“It was decided as a team, as an office, this would be what we do so that there wouldn’t be any discrimination,” Fussell said. “The easiest way is to not do them at all.”

Update: The Tampa Bay Times reports that Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Calhoun, Liberty, Franklin, and Pasco counties will also discontinue all courthouse wedding ceremonies.

Wakulla County stopped performing ceremonies in October as a cost-cutting measure. According to Bay County’s website, it no longer offers marriage ceremonies, though it is unclear when that policy was changed.

Nadine Smith, co-founder and chief executive of the gay rights group Equality Florida, said the clerks’ decision was shocking.

“I think it would be outrageous for clerks to change the rules simply because gay couples are getting married,” she said.

[ Previous ]

There were 1,911 wedding ceremonies performed at the Duval County courthouse in 2013, compared to 6,342 marriage licenses issued. About 330 Clay County couples are married at its courthouse each year, and Baker County averages about 30 wedding ceremonies a year.

Fussell said he believed marriage “is between a man and a woman.” He added, “Personally it would go against my beliefs to perform a ceremony that is other than that.”

Baker County Clerk Stacie Harvey said the room where weddings are performed each year will now be used as space for people filling out paperwork related to domestic violence injunctions.

“I needed the space and our county, we’re in the Bible Belt,” she said, adding that a law requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was not a mandate to marry those couples at the courthouse.

Justin Horan, general counsel for the Clay County clerk of courts, said the statewide debate over gay marriage accelerated discussions over ending courthouse weddings. The courthouse also is cutting back services related to passport applications and purchasing foreclosed properties.

“Really it just expedited our evaluation on whether to continue to offer marriage ceremonies,” he said. “We had been talking about it for several months now.”

© 2015, Associated Press, All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

The year in homophobia: Ten of the worst anti-LGBT stories of 2014

Previous article

Beyond marriage equality, challenges ahead for LGBT rights advocates

Next article