Saying she’s trying to correct the exact situation she originally tried to avoid, state attorney general Pam Bondi is asking U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to clarify his August ruling that some say would make Florida the 36th state to allow same-sex marriage.
Both sides of the controversial issue are battling over what appears to be ambiguity in Hinkle’s ruling, which ordered a Panhandle county clerk to issue a same-sex marriage certificate following one of several cases making their way through the court. Bondi and a vast majority of the county clerks — including Pasco County’s Paula O’Neil — have said they will not begin issuing licenses the day after the stay is lifted Jan. 5, claiming it’s unclear if the ruling affects them, or just Washington County, which was originally sued.
“Due to this legal uncertainty, our clerk … has been advised by the Florida Court Clerks & Comptroller’s association and its legal counsel to refrain from issuing same-sex marriage licenses without a binding order issued by a court of proper jurisdiction,” O’Neil spokeswoman Debbie Gay said in a statement last week.
However, same-sex marriage proponents claim county clerks like O’Neil could be in legal trouble if they refuse to start issuing marriage certificates next week.
“Any Florida clerk who refuses to follow the Constitution’s command, and who withholds marriage licenses from couples once the stay expires, is on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of the law,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in a statement through the gay rights advocacy group Equality Florida. “There is one Constitution, Florida is one state, and all Floridians are entitled to equal treatment throughout the state.”
In a motion filed Monday with Hinkle’s court, Bondi looked for the judge to clarify the ruling.
“The widespread confusion that now exists, as evidenced by multiple media reports, is precisely what the attorney general’s office sought to avoid while seeking a stay pending final resolution in favor of either side of the issue,” Bondi spokeswoman Jenn Meale said in a statement. “As stated in the response filed (Monday), if the federal court intended the injunction to have effects beyond those that appear on its face, the court may wish to provide appropriate clarification.”
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in the Florida case last week, where Hinkle struck down laws banning same-sex marriage, saying the state’s ban violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which provides for equal protection under the law. Hinkle refused to keep a stay in place for further appeal, which would technically allow same-sex marriages beginning Jan. 6.
It’s not clear if or when Hinkle will respond to the motion with more clarification, or if it will come ahead of the Jan. 6 date the stay is expected to be lifted.