1. News

Law firm tells clerks gay marriage order affects just one Florida county

Howard Simon, the executive director of the Florida ACLU, says the ruling covers the state.
Published Dec. 17, 2014

The fight to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal in Florida received a boost Tuesday from one of the state's most prominent law firms, which advised court clerks they could face misdemeanor charges if they issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Greenberg Traurig, the law firm for the association representing Florida's 67 court clerks, warned that a federal judge's ruling overturning the state ban on gay marriage only applies to one Panhandle county, Washington County, the only place named in the lawsuit. According to the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, clerks in all other counties are not bound by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle's ruling in August that the gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.

If followed, the law firm's guidance could set Florida on the same path as Kansas, where multiple judges have dissolved the state's same-sex marriage ban, but some clerks in more rural areas have refused to issue licenses to gay couples.

Hinkle put a hold on his ruling until the end of the day Jan. 5, which the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to extend. That led many gay marriage advocates to proclaim that licenses could be issued around the state beginning Jan. 6.

That's the way it should work, said Betsy White, one of several civil rights attorneys in Jacksonville representing two of the gay couples named in the federal lawsuit. She said the law firm's advice "is dead wrong," noting that it essentially encourages 66 separate lawsuits, one for each Florida county not named in the current suit. That could leave Florida taxpayers with a massive legal bill if the state loses.

"If certain clerks are going to take the position that they're not bound by Judge Hinkle's decision, then we'll be going back to the court and asking those parties to be included," White said.

Greenberg Traurig's guidance leaves court clerks in an unenviable position. If they issue marriage licenses to gay couples, they could technically face criminal charges. If they don't, they're opening themselves up to dozens of suits brought by organizations supportive of gay marriage, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said it's highly unlikely any clerk would face arrest for issuing a marriage license to a gay couple. And it would be impractical to file identical lawsuits naming all 67 court clerks as defendants, he said.

"When a federal judge declares a law unconstitutional, all public officials should cease enforcing that law. Period," Simon said.

In Pinellas County, Clerk of Court Ken Burke said his office will proceed with plans to revise marriage license applications in case gay marriage becomes legal. But Burke said he will follow the law firm's advice and reject gay couples' applications. Doing otherwise would be "irresponsible," he said.

Hillsborough County Clerk of Court Pat Frank has said she is working on new marriage documents and revising procedures in anticipation of gay marriage becoming legal. She declined a request for comment Tuesday.

On Monday, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intercede and extend the stay beyond Jan. 5, preventing marriages from taking place while Florida continues its fight to protect its ban on gay marriage. Bondi cited confusion over the impact of Hinkle's ruling and specifically referenced similar advice Greenberg Traurig dispensed in July.

"It's disingenuous of the state," said White, the Jacksonville lawyer. "The only confusion I see is from the defendants.''

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Anna M. Phillips at or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.


  1. First page of school data report Times staff
    Find your school in these reports.
  2. Colleen Beaudoin is selected Pasco County School Board chairwoman for 2020, and Allen Altman is named vice chairman. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    Altman chosen as vice chairman.
  3. Melissa Snively and Steve Cona III are the new chair and vice chair of the Hillsborough County School Board. MARLENE   |  Times staff
    Steve Cona III is vice chair.
  4. The David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa was one of several buildings named for the philanthropist and banker. [DENNIS JOYCE   |   Times] DENNIS JOYCE  |  Tampa Bay Times (2018)
    The David A. Straz Jr Foundation donated more than $33 million to dozens of organizations in nearly 20 years
  5. Port Tampa Bay president and CEO Paul Anderson. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times (2017)]
    Port commissioners approved the raise after a year with milestone achievements on several fronts.
  6. United States Air Force veteran Daniel Carmichael, of Inverness, shares his opinion before a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners of Citrus County on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, at the Citrus County Courthouse in Inverness, where the Citrus County Commission is expected to render a decision on whether to get digital subscriptions for the New York Times for all 70,000 of the county library cardholders. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes
    After two hours of debate, a motion to move forward with digital subscriptions for library cardholders fails 3-2.
  7. A sinkhole opened up beneath a phosphogypsum stack at Mosaic's Mulberry plant in 2016, draining 215 million gallons of waste into the aquifer below. Neither the company nor the state Department of Environmental Protection notified the public until a television report revealed what happened. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times (2016)]
    Problem at Bartow plant began in October, but public was given no notice.
  8. In December 2017, two masked motorcycle gang members were accused of assassinating Paul Anderson, 44,  president of the Cross Bayou chapter of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club while his pickup was stopped at a traffic light in Pasco County. [Pasco County Sheriffs Office]
    Evidence from the federal trial of two members of the 69′ers Motorcycle Club offers a rare glimpse of the world of outlaw biker gangs.
  9. David Straz and his wife Catherine at Karamu, the annual black-tie gala at ZooTampa in April. AMY SCHERZER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The future of Straz’s foundation remained unclear Tuesday. Meanwhile, police say Straz died of natural causes at a Citrus County waterfront home.
  10. David Straz Jr. passed away this week at age 77. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The retired banker supported causes from the arts to the zoo. Here’s a sampling of reaction to his death.