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Judge Says Florida Clerks Have Duty To Issue Marriage Licenses To Gay Couples

A federal judge is leaving Florida clerks without a doubt: It is their duty to issue licenses to same-sex couples looking to get married.

Back in August, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkleissued an opinion ruling Florida's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. Like other judges before him, Hinkle put the ruling on hold for a few months to give Florida time to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court.

In the intervening time, there were questions about whether the ruling applied only to the couples named in the lawsuit.

On Thursday, Hinkle clarified that this issue is settled, and it's not his order that compels clerks to issue marriage licenses — it's the U.S. Constitution.

Hinkle wrote:

"I stayed the ruling in this case while those stays were in effect and for 91 more days — long enough to allow the defendants to seek a further stay in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and, if unsuccessful there, in the United States Supreme Court. The defendants did that. They lost.

"The United States Supreme Court allowed the ruling in this case to take effect.

"History records no shortage of instances when state officials defied federal court orders on issues of federal constitutional law. Happily, there are many more instances when responsible officials followed the law, like it or not. Reasonable people can debate whether the ruling in this case was correct and who it binds. There should be no debate, however, on the question whether a clerk of court may follow the ruling, even for marriage-license applicants who are not parties to this case."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that clerks across the state will begin issuing marriage licenses on Tuesday, Jan. 6.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.