The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way late last week for marriages to begin in Florida, starting January 6. But it may not be clear sailing for same-sex couples who want a marriage license. The state's association of clerks and comptrollers has warned its members that they risk a fine and imprisonment for letting gay and lesbian couples wed.
That's because Florida's marriage ban was written to include particularly punitive measures for officials who allow same-sex couples to marry. Even though a federal judge has overturned the marriage ban, an appeal is still underway, which means that a prosecutor might try to make the case that the criminal sanctions remain in place.
Although it's hard to imagine law enforcement officials would arrest clerks who issue licenses, it's not out of the question. As recently as 2011, the state was still prosecuting heterosexuals who lived together without marrying, thanks to a 19th-century law against cohabitation.
According to lawyers for the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, only clerks in northern Florida’s Washington County are allowed to issue licenses. That county is named specifically in the lawsuit, the attorneys say, and the ruling does not apply to any of the state's other counties.
It's worth noting that the law firm advising the clerks, Greenberg Traurig, actually supports the freedom to marry. The firm has voiced support for the repeal of Florida's marriage ban, and previously assisted with the repeal of a law that prevented gay couples from adopting.
Get caught up on all the latest developments on marriage equality with correspondent Matt Baume in the video below: