In a surprise New Year’s Day ruling, a federal judge clarified that his August decision that the state’s same-sex marriage ban in unconstitutional applies to all 67 counties in the state. He also warned county clerks against attempting to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying that they will be in direct violation of federal law.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle published his ruling on Thursday afternoon.
In it, he wrote that there should be no doubt whatsoever that county clerks can legally issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and those who refuse to comply could face prosecution.
“(A) clerk who chooses not to follow the ruling should take note: the governing statutes and rules of procedure allow individuals to intervene as plaintiffs in pending actions, allow certification of plaintiff and defendant classes, allow issuance of successive preliminary injunctions, and allow successful plaintiffs to recover costs and attorney’s fees.”
In other words, county clerks who try to deny same-sex couples a license to marry for reasons of religion or any other excuse should be prepared to face litigation from the couples whose rights they are attempting to infringe and that they can be sued for the costs of said litigation.
The ruling came amid uncertainty following the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to grant a stay against same-sex marriage beginning in the state on Jan. 6. Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi pleaded with the court to stop the marriages from taking place until all of the various cases against the state are settled.
Seven justices declined to grant the stay with only Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissenting.
Following the failure of Bondi’s stay order, county clerks across the state said they would refuse to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples for reasons of conscience, saying that to do so would violate their Christian faith.
Hinkle was the judge who made the original August ruling that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. On Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Timothy Shea overruled an Orange County Clerk’s contention that Hinkle’s ruling did not apply to their district, but only to rural Washington County where the suit was filed.
On Thursday, Hinkle’s order clarified that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional throughout the state and warned County Clerks in all of Florida’s 67 counties that they are risking a violation of their duties and should be prepared to face the full legal consequences.