Wedded to prejudice in 3 Florida counties
Rather than allow gay marriages to be performed in their courthouses, vindictive officials in three Florida counties have decided to ban ALL weddings on their premises.
The decision by the Clerks of Court in the Duval, Clay and Baker counties to end the long-standing tradition of courthouse wedding ceremonies is due, at least in part, to the continued debate over same-sex marriage in Florida “against the backdrop of conservative Christianity”, according to this report.
US District Judge Robert Hinkle could rule any day to make gay marriage legal across the state.
If same-sex marriage is allowed, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Clay Clerk Tara Green and Baker Clerk Stacie Harvey (pictured from left, above) will have no choice but to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. But to avoid performing ceremonies for them, these clerks have decided to end all courthouse weddings.
The clerks said multiple factors contributed to the decision to end courthouse weddings, with gay marriage being just one of them. And they now said the new policies will take effect no matter what the courts decide about gay marriage.
Fussell says the decision came after a series of discussion with members of his staff who currently officiate wedding ceremonies. None of them, including Fussell, felt comfortable doing gay weddings so they decided to end the practice all together.
It was decided as a team, as an office, this would be what we do so that there wouldn’t be any discrimination. The easiest way is to not do them at all.
Fussell, a former Jacksonville City Council president, attends a Southern Baptist church and said he has considered how to handle the conflict between his personal views and professional duties that gay marriage created. He said he believes lesbians and gays should be defended and protected, but not allowed to marry.
I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Personally it would go against my beliefs to perform a ceremony that is other than that.
Baker Clerk Harvey said the decision is as much about logistics as it is personal conviction. 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 … we’re in the Bible Belt … If we’re made by the law to issue a gay marriage license (we will) do that, but we are not mandated to marry couples in our courthouse.
Harvey said there are members of her staff who would be uncomfortable performing same-sex weddings and she did not want to force them. She said she doesn’t feel comfortable performing weddings at all, gay or straight, and hasn’t officiated a ceremony in years.
Justin Horan, general counsel for the Clay County clerk of courts, said the debate over gay marriage accelerated discussions on whether to end courthouse weddings.
Really it just expedited our evaluation on whether to continue to offer marriage ceremonies. We had been talking about it for several months now.
Residents of Baker, Clay and Duval counties who want to avoid usual wedding expenses will now have to find a minister or notary to perform the ceremony after they pick up their marriage license, but a place other than the courthouse.
Equality Florida co-founder and chief executive Nadine Smith was shocked by the news.
I think it would be outrageous for clerks to change the rules simply because gay couples are getting married.
Smith, an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, predicted the policy change would backfire and be characterised as spiteful and mean.
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 averages about 30.
Clerks of courts in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties in the Panhandle also made similar announcements that they were ending courthouse ceremonies.
Nassau County Clerk of Courts John Crawford has not responded to a request about any changes there.
The clerks of courts in St Johns and Putnam counties said they will continue to offer courthouse weddings, even if gay marriage becomes legal.
Putnam County Clerk of Courts Tim Smith said he will allow individual members of his staff who feel uncomfortable with gay marriage to decline to perform those ceremonies, but no one has said they will take him up on the offer.
Hat tip: Trevor Blake