On Tuesday morning, same-sex couples in Florida will finally have the right to get married. Slowly but surely, state by state, marriage equality is becoming the rule, not the exception across the United States.
A little over a decade ago, the idea of two men or two women getting married was almost unthinkable. How the times and our culture have changed – except in the deepest, reddest pockets of America. Here in the Bible Belt, conservative Christian opposition to marriage equality remains staunch, even in the face of the fact that 35 states have extended the right to marry to consenting adult couples regardless of gender.
In preparation for the expiration of the ban on gay marriage in Florida, most courthouses throughout the state were probably making sure that they were stocked up on office supplies and everything else that comes along with a small rise in clerk of court duties. Most courthouses, except for five in the most conservative parts of the state.
If same-sex marriage is allowed, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Clay Clerk Tara Green and Baker Clerk Stacie Harvey will have no choice but to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. But to avoid performing ceremonies for them, these clerks have decided to end all courthouse weddings.
The clerks said multiple factors contributed to the decision to end courthouse weddings, with gay marriage being just one of them. And they now said the new policies will take effect no matter what the courts decide about gay marriage.
Fussell says the decision came after a series of discussion with members of his staff who currently officiate wedding ceremonies. None of them, including Fussell, felt comfortable doing gay weddings so they decided to end the practice all together, he said.
…Clerks of courts in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties in the Panhandle also made similar announcements that they were ending courthouse ceremonies. (Source)
As someone who lived in Florida for over five years, I am not surprised that these extremely conservative counties decided to miss out on revenues, simply out of religious beliefs. For three years, I lived next to Okaloosa County and I can tell you that pretty much the entire state of Florida along the I-10 corridor may very well be the most right-wing area in the entire country. If it isn’t, it’s running a damn close second place to Harrison, Arkansas, where billboards with messages from the KKK currently stand.
“Traditional, Christian family values” is really nothing more than an excuse to terrorize kids like Leelah Alcorn and deny equal rights under the law based on a twisted, hateful interpretation of religious texts. Last time I checked, the First Amendment forbids the government from favoring one religion over another under the Establishment Clause – but that’s exactly what these five Florida counties are doing. In other words, they’re discontinuing services traditionally provided by their county government in order to inconvenience same-sex couples who are unfortunate enough to live within those counties. They’re also citing logistics as part of the reason they will no longer perform marriage ceremonies, but they’re not even really trying to hide that this is about religion.
Baker Clerk Harvey said the decision is as much about logistics as it is personal conviction. The room where weddings are performed each year will now be used as space for people filling out paperwork related to domestic violence injunctions.
“I needed the space and our county we’re in the Bible Belt,” she said. “… If we’re made by the law to issue a gay marriage license (we will) do that, but we are not mandated to marry couples in our courthouse.”
Harvey said there are members of her staff who would be uncomfortable performing same-sex weddings and she did not want to force them. She said she doesn’t feel comfortable performing weddings at all, gay or straight, and hasn’t officiated a ceremony in years. (Source)
Even though much of the rest of the country is coming to grips with the reality of marriage equality and finding more important things to worry about, the Bible Belt will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. It’s a shame that the people who claim to love and follow Jesus are the absolute polar opposites of what his message was supposed to be about.
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