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County Clerks Face Confusion Over Gay Marriage Ruling

Ashley Lopez
Credit Ashley Lopez / WGCU

Despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, gay marriage may not be a done deal in Florida. That’s because county officials in charge of issuing marriage licenses are dealing with conflicting legal opinions.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied the state’s effort to keep its same-sex marriage ban in place. For all intents and purposes, the effects of a ruling saying Florida’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional will set in after Jan. 5. But, there’s confusion about whether this only applies to one county. That’s because only one county in Florida – Washington County—was part of the lawsuit.

That’s why Linda Doggett, Lee County’s Clerk of Court, said she won’t be issuing same sex marriage licenses. She said she’s following a legal memo from a clerk of courts association that says she could face a misdemeanor for handing out licenses.

“So, unless there is something that has an effect on our specific lee county we still have to follow what the law says,” she said.

Howard Simon, the ACLU of Florida’s executive director, said this situation could cause legal chaos.

He argues it’s really unlikely a clerk will be prosecuted by the state for not following a law ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.

“What’s far more likely is that county courts will be sued,” he said. “They will be sued by activist organizations or more likely they will be sued by people who have been denied a marriage license. That’s the chaos we all want to avoid.”

Both Doggett and Simon—as well as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi – have agreed it’s important to have uniformity throughout the state. Other counties say they are waiting for more guidance before deciding whether or not to issue licenses starting Jan. 6. 

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Ashley Lopez is a reporter forWGCUNews. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree.
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