By Letitia Stein
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - An Orlando area official can begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples next week, a Florida judge said, while the fate of same-sex marriage remained in limbo across most of the state.
Circuit Court Judge Timothy Shea issued his court order filed on Wednesday in response to an emergency petition by the Orange County clerk of court, one of many officials in the state confused about where gay marriage is permitted to begin on Jan. 6.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month declined to extend a stay on a federal judge's decision to strike down the state's ban, allowing Florida to become the 36th state with legal gay marriage.
But a state clerks association has advised officials that the high court's order, stemming from an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Florida's Northern District, may apply only to one rural county named in the case.
Shea disagreed with that interpretation. Saying Hinkle's ruling may be considered "the law of Florida," Shea said Orange County Clerk of Court Tiffany Moore Russell could begin issuing marriage licenses on Jan. 6 after the federal judge's stay expires.
"We are grateful for the clear direction,” Russell said in a statement.
State officials and clerks elsewhere are awaiting further court direction as Hinkle considers a separate emergency motion seeking to clarify the reach of his ruling.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Mohammad Zargham)