Will Florida Gay Couples Really Be Able to Marry on January 6?

by | December 19, 2014

By Rene Stutzman and Jeff Kunerth

Orlando residents Bill Stevens and his partner, Bob Brings, plan to take a pre-marriage course next week. That way they can skip the three-day waiting period and get married Jan. 6.

Shawn Harrold and his partner, Ryan Gard, two Seminole County educators, hope to take that same day off from work _ Jan. 6 _ so they can get married, too.

Ellen Hone and Sharon Durrant plan an Orlando church wedding Jan. 10, followed by a big reception and party at their home on Lake Barton.

But those couples' plans began to look increasingly uncertain this week.

Legal maneuvers, along with a warning that the elected court clerks who issue marriage licenses might face legal jeopardy, have cast doubt on whether Jan. 6 will be the date that same-sex marriage would come to Florida, as rights activists had hoped.

Court clerks across many Central Florida counties this week said they would not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a court specifically orders them to do so.

The clerks have been warned that if they do issue those licenses, they could face arrest and a year in jail.

The legal ruling that gay rights activists were keying on _ from a Tallahassee federal judge who declared Florida's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional _ only orders the clerk of Washington County to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. And it only orders him to give it to one couple, the one who sued him.

There's another possible holdup: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi this week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to extend a stay, blocking that Tallahassee ruling from becoming law, something that could result in an indefinite delay. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed to consider the request.

"Because same-sex marriage is a relatively new concept _ having not appeared in the United States until 2003 ... it is not objectively or deeply rooted in this nation's history and tradition, so it is not a fundamental right," according to Bondi's request for a longer stay. Where does all that leave gay and lesbian couples who plan to get married Jan. 6?

"It's a roller coaster. It's hard to be able to plan your life," said Hone, 78, of Orlando, who has been with Durrant for 35 years. Hone said she feels guilty because her sister and brother-in-law bought airline tickets to fly here from Illinois to attend a wedding that now may not happen.

"It's one big jumbled mess," said Bill Stevens.

At Orlando's LGBT Community Center of Central Florida, 25 couples signed up for a mass wedding ceremony planned for 6 p.m. Jan. 6.

"What I'm telling people is don't order a cake yet. It might not happen," said Terry DeCarlo, the center's executive director.

DeCarlo described himself as "cautiously optimistic" but is urging same-sex couples to take the pre-marriage course that eliminates the state's mandatory three-day period before a marriage license becomes official. That's exactly what Stevens and Bring, partners for six years, intend to do. They plan to take the $40, four-hour course Tuesday as a hedge against uncertainty.

"It's kind of difficult making plans when you don't know what is going to happen and when and where," said Stevens, 54, of Orlando.

Four South Florida state judges have also declared Florida's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional since July 17, but in each case, the judge only has jurisdiction over a single county, and their rulings have not become law because of appeals by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

(c)2014 The Orlando Sentinel