Generally, when a couple heads to their local courthouse or county clerk’s office, they can both receive a marriage license and have their marriage officiated. That is no longer true in 14 Florida counties that have changed their policies anticipating the arrival of marriage equality this week.
Clerks in those counties have offered various justifications to the Tampa Bay Times for ending their courthouse wedding services, including cramped offices, staff limitations, and shrinking budgets. Others admitted that same-sex marriage was a contributing factor.
Pasco County Clerk of Court Paula O’Neil said that most of her staff were “uncomfortable” officiating same-sex weddings, and ending the practice was the only way to avoid discriminating or transferring them all to different departments. Okaloosa County Clerk J.D. Peacock II told his staff in a memo, “I do not want to have members of our team put in a situation which presents a conflict between their personal religious beliefs and the implementation of a contentious societal philosophy change.”
As Joe Jervis points out, almost all of the counties that have ended the practice are in the traditionally more-conservative panhandle region of Florida. Couples of any gender seeking to wed in those counties will have to find another officiant willing and able to marry them. It’s unclear what they’ll be expected to do if they can’t find an alternative.