All of Florida's 67 counties can comply with a federal judge's ruling and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting next week.
The state's attorney general said she will not contest anything county clerks of courts decide to do with the ruling.
“We’ve been waiting 24 years for this,” shared Peggy Rowan Winkler, a DeLand woman who is planning on getting married on Jan. 6 at Orlando City Hall.
"Super excited. I’m like, 'I’m getting married, I’m getting married.' I’m gonna have a wife. I can’t wait,” added Rowan Winkler’s partner, Meredith Dobbins.
U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle issued a ruling Thursday that clarifies his ruling on the issue. He said clerks have a "legal duty" to issue the licenses, but he did not order them to do it.
Hinkle originally overturned Florida's same-sex marriage ban, but there were questions as to whether it affected only Washington County, or all counties.
A stay on the ruling was set to end at midnight Jan. 5, and Hinkle said he would not extend the stay. That means on Jan. 6 counties can begin issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples.
Judge Hinkle said this in his ruling:
"History records no shortage of instances when state officials defied federal
court orders on issues of federal constitutional law. Happily, there are many more
instances when responsible officials followed the law, like it or not. Reasonable
people can debate whether the ruling in this case was correct and who it binds.
"There should be no debate, however, on the question whether a clerk of court may
follow the ruling, even for marriage-license applicants who are not parties to this
case. And 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."
Many counties were preparing to issue those licenses even if they did not have this clarification. A Florida circuit judge Wednesday ordered Orange and Osceola counties to issue marriage licenses on Jan. 6.
Attorney General Pam Bondi thanked the judge for providing additional guidance in a statement Thursday. "My office will not stand in the way as clerks of court determine how to proceed," Bondi said.
However, John Stemberger with the Florida Family Policy Council says the ruling is being misinterpreted. He issued this statement:
"It clearly says that only the clerk Washington County is required to issue the marriage license and only to the two persons in that case. Judge Hinkle has no jurisdiction outside of the Northern District of Florida to bind any clerk outside of North Florida. Clerks outside of North Florida are required to obey the current law and are still subject to all the penalties of a first-degree misdemeanor for violating it."
Equality Florida issued this statement Thursday:
"We believe Judge Hinkle's order was clear from the beginning. We are pleased that he has put an end to the unnecessary confusion caused by a poorly written legal memo by a private law firm. We look forward to January 6th when couples who have waited for this day can finally be married and those of us married elsewhere are finally able to fully protect our families."
Dobbins said she can’t wait to introduce Rowan Winkler as her wife, instead of just her girlfriend.
“It’s great to finally have some body say to us that our relationship is equally important as their relationship and that’s just a really important validation,” Dobbins explained.
For Dobbins and Rowan Winkler, now it’s time to finalize Tuesday’s wedding wardrobe.
“Our shopping pressure is on but we’ll do it,” said Rowan Winkler, as the couple laughed with pure excitement and joy.