ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A conservative group on Tuesday sued a county clerk of courts, Orlando's mayor and a judge in an effort to stop them from helping same-sex couples get married in Florida next week.
The lawsuits filed by the Florida Family Action, Inc. asked a judge to prevent the officials from either officiating or issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting next week when Florida's ban on same-sex marriage is set to expire.
The officials named in the lawsuits are Osceola County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Circuit Judge Robert LeBlanc.
The conservative group argued the lifting of the state's ban on same-sex marriage applies to only Washington County in the Panhandle, where the legal challenge originated.
Ramirez is the only Florida clerk of courts outside of Washington County who has publicly said he will issue licenses to same-sex couples, according to a survey of clerk of courts done by The Associated Press last week.
Dyer and LeBlanc have said they plan to officiate at same-sex weddings on Jan. 6, the day Florida's ban on gay marriage is scheduled to be lifted.
Ramirez said Tuesday that he hadn't been served with the lawsuit, and that 30 couples already have registered online to get their licenses. A Dyer spokeswoman said in a statement that the mayor doesn't believe a local judge has the authority to stop a notary public, such as the mayor, from conducting a ministerial act such as a wedding ceremony.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. He stayed his ruling, but the stay is scheduled to expire Jan. 5. The association that represents county clerks said the ruling applies only in Washington County, and an overwhelming majority of Florida clerks in the AP survey said they won't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until they have further clarification that it is legal to do so.
Gay rights groups dispute the association's interpretation and say the ruling applies to all 67 clerks.
Hinkle asked two Florida agencies to state their positions by Monday on whether the lifting of the ban applies to counties outside of Washington County.
In a brief filed late Monday, Attorney General Pam Bondi didn't offer a clear opinion on who is right. If Hinkle intends for the ruling to apply more widely, he should "provide appropriate clarification," the brief said.
"This court is best situated to determine the reach of its own order," stated the filing made by Allen Winsor, the state's solicitor general, on behalf of Bondi.
The legal filing argued that clerks are independent officials under Florida's constitution and that Hinkle's initial ruling took aim at other statewide officials under Gov. Rick Scott who are not connected to clerks.
Some clerks who are undecided about what to do said Tuesday that the attorney general's brief did little to clarify what action to take.
"I have no idea what their objective was. They have made it about as clear as mud," said Dwight Brock, clerk for Collier County. "It hasn't given me a lot of clarity. I still don't know what I will do."
Meanwhile, Washington County's clerk said Tuesday that all couples, gay and straight, seeking marriage licenses would be asked to use a side entrance. The purpose is to process the marriage licenses efficiently in a way doesn't interfere with other business conducted in the building, said Lora Bell, Washington County's clerk of court.
Bell's office, which typically handles 10 to 15 marriage licenses in a month could be handling as many as 25 a day after Monday, although no one knows for sure how many couples than usual will be seeking licenses in Washington County.
"We're not able to do hundreds. We're not staffed for that," Bell said. "We are a small office and our staff is small."