By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
As Florida’s county clerks wait for clarification on whether they can begin issuing same sex marriage licenses, a group opposed to the measure sued “a county clerk of courts, Orlando’s mayor and a judge in an effort to stop them from helping same-sex couples get married in Florida next week,” the Associated Press reports.
The lawsuits filed by the Florida Family Action, Inc. asked a judge to prevent the officials from either officiating or issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting next week when Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is set to expire.
The officials named in the lawsuits are Osceola County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Circuit Judge Robert LeBlanc.
The conservative group argued the lifting of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage applies to only Washington County in the Panhandle, where the legal challenge originated.
Ramirez is the only Florida clerk of courts outside of Washington County who has publicly said he will issue licenses to same-sex couples, according to a survey of clerk of courts done by The Associated Press last week.
Dyer and LeBlanc have said they plan to officiate at same-sex weddings on Jan. 6, the day Florida’s ban on gay marriage is scheduled to be lifted.
A federal judge has already ruled that Florida’s ban on same sex marriages is unconstitutional. However, he stayed the effects of that ruling until other legal battles over gay marriage were settled around the country. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle will let the stay expire on Jan. 5.
However, the confusion for county clerks is whether all of this only applies to the one county—or couple—that was party in the lawsuit.
Lawyers on both sides of the battle have different opinions about this. That’s why Hinkle asked the state to clarify whether his ruling would apply to all of the state’s 67 counties. The state had until Monday to clarify the issue, but Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi handed that business right back to the federal court.
Hinkle last week ordered the state to “explicitly” state whether the proposed injunction applies to all the clerks.
But Bondi’s filing doesn’t offer a clear opinion on who is right. Instead, it says if Hinkle intends for the ruling to apply more widely, he should “provide appropriate clarification.”
“This court is best situated to determine the reach of its own order,” states the filing made by Allen Winsor, the state’s solicitor general, on behalf of Bondi.
The legal filing does argue that clerks are “independent” officials under Florida’s constitution and that Hinkle’s initial ruling took aim at other statewide officials under Gov. Rick Scott who are not connected to clerks.
The state has been fighting to uphold the ban for months now. Until a final appeal from the state is resolved, lawyers advising the state’s county clerks say the ruling does not apply to the whole state.
However, attorneys at the ACLU of Florida argue that no one in the state should carry out a law, such as the ban on same-sex marriage, that has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
Hinkle is expected to clarify the issue some time before the stay on his ruling expires.