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Federal court clears way for marriage equality in Florida

Some Florida counties hoped to block same-sex marriages next week, a court ruling be damned. Yesterday, a federal judge issued a stern warning on this.
A same-sex couple exchanges rings at a wedding.
A same-sex couple exchanges rings at a wedding.
About four months ago, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a ruling endorsing marriage equality in the state of Florida, but opponents insisted the court's opinion needed clarification. Indeed, earlier this week, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) argued that it was unclear whether the ruling applied to one county clerk named in the lawsuit or all counties statewide.
With same-sex marriages set to begin on Jan. 6, the uncertainty obviously matters. In fact, as of a week ago, most of Florida's county clerks said they would deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, taking advantage of what they saw as unclear guidance from the district court.
So, the federal judge helped clarify matters yesterday: on Tuesday, marriage equality will come to every county in Florida, without exception.

Specifically, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, clarifying a previous order, ruled that all Florida clerks are bound by the U.S. Constitution not to enforce Florida's gay marriage ban and that any couple seeking a license should receive one. [...] Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, praised the ruling, saying it made clear the constitution does not tolerate discrimination and that "beginning Tuesday, Jan. 6, all clerks in Florida have an obligation to issue marriage licenses to couples requesting them."

There can be no confusion about the wording of Hinkle's ruling. "History records no shortage of instances when state officials defied federal court orders on issues of federal constitutional law," the judge wrote. "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."
As the Miami Herald's report added, Bondi, the state AG and opponent of marriage equality, "said the state would not try to block county clerks from issuing licenses."
So what's a far-right clerk to do?
They're pretty much out of options, though a few counties have decided they will stop performing all marriage ceremonies.

The decision by Duval, Clay and Baker counties comes after Judge Robert Hinkle announced Wednesday that any court refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. In an effort to avoid the situation altogether, the officials for the counties say they will no longer hold wedding ceremonies for anyone, First Coast News reported. They still, however, will issue marriage licenses -- no matter one's sexuality -- as required under Hinkle's ruling.

In the meantime, the issue of marriage equality appears headed for a Supreme Court showdown.