County Clerk in Florida Ready to Issue Marriage Licenses for Gay Couples

A county clerk in Key West, Florida, is ready to issue gay marriage licenses. A county clerk in Key West, Florida, is ready to issue gay marriage licenses. Shutterstock

Following a state judge’s order handed down late last week, a county clerk in the Florida Keys had been gearing up to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting this week. But gay couples wanting to head to Key West to get hitched are going to have to wait a bit longer. 

Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia ruled on Thursday that Florida’s 2008 voter-approved state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is unconstitutional and ruled that two gay Key West bartenders have the right to marry and that the Monroe County Clerk’s office could issue a marriage license as early as Tuesday.

In an immediate response, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who is already defending the state’s ban on gay marriage in a federal lawsuit in North Florida and a separate state lawsuit in Miami-Dade County, sought an appeal to put Garcia’s ruling on hold.

The two bartenders, William Lee Jones and Aaron Huntsman, had sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for turning down the couple’s request for a marriage license based on the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

On Monday morning, attorneys for Jones and Huntsman filed an emergency motion to have the stay lifted, according to KeysInfoNet, citing “irreparable harm” and the likelihood that the state would lose on appeal. But on Monday afternoon, Garcia denied their motion to lift a stay on his ruling, according to NBC Miami.

Garcia, appointed to the bench in 2000 by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and re-elected twice since, limited his ruling to Monroe County, which includes all of the Florida Keys and a portion of the Everglades, but the case is likely to help steer the Sunshine State through a multi-step legal process that will likely, eventually, bring the nation’s fourth-largest state in line with other states where same-sex marriage is legal.

According to the Sun Sentinel:

But, legal experts say, while the Sunshine State may ultimately reach that same destination, it's likely to do so in its own typically unique fashion, and it will be up to the judiciary to lead the way.

"Florida is going to do its own thing," said Bob Jarvis, constitutional law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. "I think we're a more conflicted state." ...

Legal experts predict that in Florida, however, it will be court rulings, not voters or lawmakers, that propel the state to marriage equality.

"It's going to go through the appellate courts," Jarvis said. "One way or another it will get to the Florida Supreme Court."

The state's highest court, along with lower courts, will likely grant marriage equality, the professor predicted. "It's tough to rule any other way," he said.

As Monroe County clerk, Heavilin, a Republican, has not taken any definitive action to defend the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage and had been busy preparing her office for Tuesday, when gay couples would, in theory, had been able to start applying for marriage licenses if the hold on Garcia’s ruling had been lifted.

Heavilin’s office had already changed language on marriage licenses to include same-sex couples.

“The current vows say ‘husband and wife,’ and we changed them to ‘first spouse, second spouse,’” Ron Saunders, an attorney for the Monroe County Clerk’s office, told The Miami Herald on Friday, noting that his office has been flooded with calls from gay couples across the state inquiring when they would be able to get married in the county. 

Pending a resolution in the appeals process, those couples will continue to wait.

This post has been updated to reflect new developments, including Judge Luis Garcia's denial of an emergency motion to lift a stay on his decision ruling Florida's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

(Image via Jorg Hackemann/Shutterstock.com)

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