Jacksonville, Florida likes to think of itself as the Last City in the Old South — a kind of sister city to Charlotte and Savannah, replete with all the trappings of the ersatz Confederacy. The fact that Jacksonville and the areas around it are also the go-to retirement spot for those from other areas of the Confederacy probably also has a bit to do with its leanings. Including that most oh-so-Southern of all leanings: the passive-aggressive temper tantrum.
This week, the County Clerks offices from Duval County (Jacksonville), Baker County (west of Jax) and Clay County (southwest of Jax) have decided to stop performing courthouse weddings. That is, ending the romantic tradition of sealing one’s love in the same place where felons seal their urine samples before drug court. On the other end of the panhandle, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties have made similar announcements.
Of course, none of that has anything to do with discrimination against or hatred for gays — it’s just that it’s exactly that. The staffs of the Clerk’s offices in those counties are in unanimous agreement that homos are icky, and they’re not comfortable marrying them. Jacksonville’s County clerk Ronnie Fussell says of this act of obvious discrimination that it was done to prevent discrimination.
“It was decided as a team, as an office, this would be what we do so that there wouldn’t be any discrimination. The easiest way is to not do them at all.”
In Baker County, though, they have a much more valid reason for not performing any more of the 30 or so courthouse marriages they do a year. Because they’ve suddenly decided they need the wedding space for people filling out domestic violence paperwork. Which obviously isn’t meant as a deliberate jab at gay couples, which have a statistically higher rate of reported domestic violence (typically “mutual combat”) than heterosexual couples. So nope, not a petty jab at all.
In St. Johns and Putnam Counties, just south of Jacksonville, they’re not ending courthouse weddings altogether — but if nobody on staff feels comfortable marrying the gays, then no gays shall be married that day. Which isn’t discrimination in any form.
For the most part, these petty acts of intolerance are just that: petty, and without much in the way of real-world effect, aside from making the people of those counties look like exactly the kind of bigots and homophobes that they are.
However, the decision probably will have a fairly tangible effect in Jacksonville itself. In 2013, Jacksonville issued 6,342 marriage licenses, and about a third of those marriages (1,911) were performed at the county courthouse. Assuming the number remains about the same annually, that’s roughly 2,000 (mostly straight) couples who will be forced to go elsewhere to exchange their pre-divorce vows.
However, the counties can’t deny marriage licenses on the basis of gender, regardless of who performs the ceremony. And any notary can do them. So, non-homophobic notaries in Jacksonville will probably end up with a whole new market niche in the near future.
And they say Republican policies don’t create jobs.
All it took was a tiny passive-aggressive temper tantrum, a bit of hatred, and a whole lot of Southern Christian Pride.