With same-sex marriage license distribution possibly mere days away, a Florida-based conservative group has filed two lawsuits to keep county clerks of court from handing out licenses to LGBT couples looking to get married come January 6.
The group, known as Florida Family Action, filed the lawsuits on Tuesday against Orlando's mayor and the Osceola County clerk of court.
The clerk of court and Mayor Buddy Dyer have said they plan on issuing marriage licenses a week from today, when a judge's stay on a ruling that Florida's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional expires.
Specifically, three officials have been named in the lawsuits, including Dyer, Osceola County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez, and Circuit Judge Robert LeBlanc.
The group, which describes itself as providing "a platform for informing, inspiring and rallying those who care deeply about the family to greater involvement in the moral, cultural and political issues that threaten our state," argues in its lawsuits that the expiring stay on same-sex marriage applies only to Washington County, which is where U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle made his original ruling that the ban is unconstitutional back in August.
Earlier this month, a Tallahassee-based law firm that represents the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers sent out a memo advising that anyone who issues a marriage license to an LGBT couple, even after January 6, will be committing a misdemeanor that would be punishable by up to one year in county jail. Gay advocacy groups have refuted the memo's claims.
But Florida Family Action is jumping on that argument, citing the law firm's claims in the lawsuits.
"The law firm Greenburg Traurig, which is legal counsel to the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, issued a legal memorandum on December 15, 2014, advising clerks throughout the state not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because the Brenner Order does not apply to any clerk outside of Washington County," part of the 17-page lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit emphasizes that "only the Washington Clerk has been ordered to issue a marriage license."
Florida Family Action goes on to say in the lawsuit that Osceola County Clerk Ramirez has publicly disregarded the Florida Clerks' legal counsel, quoting him as saying, "There is no reason not to proceed issuing marriage licenses one minute after midnight Jan. 6. We won't waste any time."
A New Times request to speak with Florida Family Action President John Stemberger has so far gone unanswered.
But Stemberger did release a written statement to the media.
"All three of these officials have shown great contempt and disrespect for the rule of law and are behaving irresponsibly and unprofessionally," the statement reads. "The federal court decision is clear that it only applies narrowly to the two plaintiffs and only in Washington County."
Proponents of same-sex marriage, however, argue that Hinkle's ruling extends to all of Florida, and not just Washington County.
Sasha Westerman-Keuning, an LGBT immigration attorney who also specializes in same-sex marriage whom New Times spoke with earlier this month, called the memo a "very conservative stance" and made a point that Hinkle's ruling would have to be debated in court.
The executive director of ACLU of Florida, Howard Simon, took it a step further, rhetorically asking in a statement, "are local officials seriously preparing to arrest and criminally charge county clerks for enforcing a federal judge's order?"
Simon called the prospects of legal action against clerks who distribute marriage licenses to same-sex couples on January 6 "preposterous."
Westerman-Keuning echoed that sentiment, telling New Times that "it would be a real abuse of power if they started criminal prosecutions over [marriage license distributions]."
Meanwhile, to clear things up, Hinkle ordered the state to clear the issue by deciding if county clerks will be legally allowed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On Tuesday, the state turned it back on Hinkle and said that he is the one who must decide if his overturning of the same-sex marriage ban applies to the entire state or just to Washington County.
You can read the Florida Family Action lawsuit below: