Lawyers, Activists Say Clerks May Face Lawsuits If They Turn Away Gay Couples

Dec 22, 2014


From left: Don Price Johnston and partner, Jorge Isaias, Melanie and partner Vanessa Alenier, Attorney Cristina Alonso of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, Pamela Faerber and partner Summer Greene, Catherine Pareto and partner Karla Arguello, attorney Elizabeth F. Schwartz, Todd and Jeff Delmay, and NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, after press conference announcing that six same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute filed a lawsuit in Florida state court in Miami seeking the freedom to marry.
Credit Walt Michot / Miami Herald

Leading LGBT activists and attorneys on Monday blasted a top Miami-based law firm for “an exaggerated warning” to county clerks that they could be fined or prosecuted for issuing marriage licenses Jan. 6 to same-sex couples.

“A law firm memo does not override a federal judge’s order and the actions of the 11th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a major LGBT-rights lobbying group. “They’re actually exaggerating the risk on one hand and ignoring the extraordinary risk clerks will face in lawsuits and damages for violating the constitutional rights of every couple they turn away.”

Same-sex marriage is set to begin Jan. 6 in Florida, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday evening denied Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s request to Justice Clarence Thomas that he extend a stay preventing the state from recognizing the marriages of eight gay and lesbian couples.

On Aug. 21, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee overturned Florida’s 2008 constitutional gay-marriage ban and stayed his ruling through Jan. 5, to give Bondi time to take the case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The appeal still hasn’t been heard by that court, but on Dec. 3 three 11th Circuit judges told Bondi it would not extend Hinkle’s stay.