On New Year’s Day, a federal judge ruled that all county clerks in Florida should begin to issue marriage licenses to gay couples starting Jan. 6. This order did not sit well with those clerks whose sincere religious principles require them to hate gay people. But since these clerks have no religious right to refuse same-sex couples marriage licenses, they’ve found a new way to express their antipathy toward gay Floridians. Traditionally, clerks have performed courthouse weddings for couples who request them. Now, rather than risk having to perform such ceremonies for gay couples, a group of Florida clerks have ended courthouse weddings for everyone.
Because these clerks still have a legal duty to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, this move won’t have any serious practical effects. Rather, it’s one final opportunity for anti-gay clerks to degrade same-sex couples—on what should be the happiest day of their lives. Duval County Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, who championed canceling courthouse weddings, told the Florida Times-Union that he believes gay people should be legally forbidden from getting married and that performing a same-sex wedding ceremony “would go against my beliefs.” Accordingly, he decided to end all courthouse weddings for all couples, “so that there wouldn’t be any discrimination.”
We’ve seen this kind of petty retaliation before. In 2013, the Pentagon—spurred by a presidential decree that itself arose from a Supreme Court ruling—issued a directive requiring all states to provide equal benefits to married same-sex couples in the National Guard. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin refused, citing a state law forbidding the recognition of same-sex marriages. The Pentagon pushed back, politely noting that federal law trumps state law. In response, Fallin chose to drop marriage benefits for all National Guard couples, gay or straight, just to avoid granting those benefits to gay couples. Fallin borrowed this tactic from Catholic Charities, a social services organization that has consistently ended all adoption services rather than comply with state laws compelling them to adopt out children to gay couples.
This strategy—denying benefits to everybody to avoid having to grant gay people equality—is a losing play by a losing team trying to salvage some modicum of dignity from its inglorious defeat. It would be repulsive if it weren’t so overwhelmingly pathetic, so childish and small-minded and uncharitable. At the end of the day, these clerks aren’t doing much harm by closing off their courthouses to wedding ceremonies. On Jan. 6, thousands of gay couples will walk out of those courthouses with a marriage license in hand. They’ll be leaving behind a handful of clerks who are so wrapped up in their own hateful prejudice that partaking in a gay couple’s joy gives them nothing but disgust.