Email insights: Florida Court Clerks take bold stand on same-sex licenses … by doing nothing

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Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers are finding themselves in a bit of a quandary.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not intervene in a lower-court decision on Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, which ruled it unconstitutional.

As a result, court clerks statewide could issue same-sex marriage licenses beginning 12:01 a.m. Jan 6.

Maybe.

The SCOTUS announcement resulted in nothing less than complete chaos at the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, the statewide association representing court clerks. They are uncertain if the ruling pertained only to Washington County – named in the original lawsuit – or if the decision applies statewide.

As a result, both sides of the issue jumped in to help “clarify” the issue — only to further muddy the water.

Supporters of Florida’s same-sex marriage ban threatened to bring charges against “every” clerk in all but Washington County.

Others, like U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a strong advocate of marriage equality, assured the clerks that they would not face prosecution for issuing same-sex marriage licenses starting Jan. 6.

For the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, neither proved helpful.

Accordingly, they did the only thing they could – release a powerful email weighing in on the debate, taking its strongest position yet.

That position: a definite “maybe.”

Executive Director Kenneth Kent’s statement on same-gender marriage licenses, in light of the recent ruling, offered the public the epitome of legal doublespeak.

In the process, he managed to add little to actually settle the debate:

“The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers’ opinion regarding the legality of issuing same-gender marriage licenses in the State of Florida, as previously stated by our general counsel, remains unchanged. Numerous cases support the holding that the denial of the state’s motion to stay by the U.S. Supreme Court last Friday was not a decision on the issue of same-gender marriage.

“Our general counsel has advised us that established case law makes it clear that the order of a trial court, including the Federal District Court in this case, is not binding on any other court.

“Further, it is the understanding of the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers that the only courts that can bring judicial clarity to this question through a binding, statewide decision are the U.S. Supreme Court, the Florida Supreme Court or a Florida District Court of Appeals.

“Absent a ruling from one of those three bodies, our opinion, as previously presented by our general counsel, will not change.”

In short, Florida Court Clerks is taking definitive action … by doing absolutely nothing.

Kent continues by saying general counsel recommends that the Washington County Clerk file an emergency motion with the Federal District Court, explaining which jurisdiction the court ruling will apply.

Kent says that move will “further clarify,” the issue, which is good, because his email certainly didn’t.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.