County court clerks in South Florida finalized plans Friday to start marrying gay couples minutes after a federal stay in the case expires Monday night, with Broward County planning a 3 a.m. mass wedding and Miami-Dade and Monroe possibly starting hours earlier Monday.
In Key West, a gay couple and the Monroe County clerk filed an emergency motion Friday asking Circuit Judge Luis Garcia to let the men marry even before the federal stay ends.
“I’ve been waiting over 12 years now. A 12-year wait to get married is quite a long wait,” said William Lee Jones, who with partner Aaron Huntsman sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license.
In July Garcia declared Florida’s 2008 same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, ordering that Jones and Huntsman be allowed to marry. But he stayed his ruling pending an appeal by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
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In Miami-Dade, Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel, who declared Florida’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional in July as well, has scheduled an 11 a.m. hearing Monday. Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin says his office is ready to immediately begin issuing licenses and marrying same-sex couples if Zabel lifts the stay on her own ruling.
The federal stay that will expire Monday night was put in place by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee. After finding the state’s ban unconstitutional, Hinkle also stayed his order pending appeal.
Bondi appealed Hinkle’s ruling to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which hasn’t heard the case. But both the appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Bondi’s request to extend Hinkle’s stay until the appeal case is heard.
After several Florida county clerks said they would not abide by the district court ruling until after either the Florida or U.S. Supreme Court settled the issue, Hinkle announced on New Year’s Day that any clerk who refuses to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the stay ends will be violating the U.S. Constitution and subject to lawsuits. In a terse statement, Bondi said each clerk could decide what to do.
Once the stays expire, “hundreds of same-sex couples will gather at the courthouse steps in Key West to obtain marriage licenses in accordance with the U.S. Constitution,” said Key Largo attorney Bernadette Restivo, who represents Huntsman and Jones.
Ron Saunders, the Monroe County clerk’s legal counsel, said whatever happens, the Key West clerk’s office will begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
“We believe that the federal judge’s ruling gives us the authority to begin issuing licenses at midnight, which we plan on doing,” Saunders said.
The first 100 couples at the clerk’s office will be served and everyone else will need to return during regular business hours, 8:30 a.m to 5 p.m.
Huntsman and Jones will be couple No. 1, Saunders said.
Broward Clerk Howard Forman said Friday morning that same-sex couples will be granted licenses 12:01 a.m. Tuesday at the clerk's main office in Fort Lauderdale, followed by a mass wedding at 3 a.m.
“It will be a big happening, that’s for sure,” said Forman, who has hired several extra clerks to work early Tuesday. “I deputized them already. Ordinary folks.”
Forman said he had no idea how many couples will come to get married at the Broward central courthouse office, but he noted a few weeks ago that there was “pent-up demand” for same-sex marriage licenses in Fort Lauderdale and nearby Oakland Park/Wilton Manors.
Families and friends are invited to join the couples for the mass wedding at 3 a.m. “If they want to participate, have them come by and just be patient,” said Forman, adding that there is no plan in Broward to begin marriages before the Hinkle stay expires Monday night.
Anyone who wants to marry Tuesday at the Broward Clerk’s other office will have to wait until regular hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
In Miami-Dade, Ruvin said his office is ready. “We are fully prepared if the judge decides to lift her stay on Monday, to proceed Monday afternoon,” Ruvin said.
On Friday night, his office posted updated applications on the clerk’s website: “Groom” became “Groom/Spouse” and “Bride” became “Bride/Spouse,” Ruvin said.
If Zabel does not permit couples to marry on Monday, Ruvin said his office will not reopen at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, unlike the clerks offices in Monroe and Broward counties.
Instead, couples can get marriage licenses during regular business hours Tuesday at the main office, 140 W. Flagler St., 15th Floor, or any of the clerk’s six satellite offices throughout Miami-Dade County.
“We’re going to treat everybody equally and do regular hours, 9 to 4,” Ruvin said, adding that any couple on line by 4 p.m. Tuesday will get a marriage license.
Florida marriage primer
Both spouses must apply for a marriage license in person. There is no residency or citizenship requirement. All applicants must show valid identification. Applicants 16-17 years old must show a birth certificate with parent’s name and a parental consent form.
A deputy clerk can perform a marriage ceremony immediately after the license is issued, if the spouses have taken a four-hour premarital course. There is no other waiting period for those who have taken the course. The courses are given in person and online, and can be completed in one day. Search online: ‘Florida premarital course.’
All Florida residents must take the course, or wait three days for a license to become valid. This does not apply to nonresidents. Marriage ceremonies must be performed within 60 days of a license being issued.
License fees: $93.50 or $61 with completion of premarital course. Ceremony: $30.
For details, visit the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s website.