WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG, BAD QUEERS?

I had assumed that no one would emerge from the last, desperate throes of Florida’s resistance to same-sex marriage as a bigger horse’s ass than Attorney General Pam Bondi. It was Bondi, after all, who continued to spend your tax dollars to defend the state’s gay marriage ban even after a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional, even after the Supreme Court turned aside her last-ditch appeal. Up until the bitter end, under the guise of seeking “clarity,” Bondi’s minions wondered in a legal briefing whether, maybe, just maybe, the federal court’s ruling applied to only one gay couple in only one Florida county. (That’s not how the Constitution works, Pam.)

And even then, after (what I imagine to be a very exasperated) U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle responded on New Year’s Day that, yes, his ruling meant that clerks of court all over the state could, and in fact should, issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning Jan. 6, Bondi’s office issued a statement claiming that “the injunction does not require a clerk to issue licenses to same-sex couples other than the plaintiffs [in this one case], but the court stated that ‘a clerk of court may follow the ruling.'” This was a kernel of truth buried in a mountain of bullshit: Yes, the judge didn’t say they had to do it, only that they should, and if they didn’t, they’d get the bejesus sued out of them, and they’d lose.

All of this led Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam C. Smith to label Bondi a “modern-day Anita Bryant” — to my mind, George Wallace would have made a better analogue — for her stalwart refusal to bend to the inevitability of progress, for her insistence on placating her right-wing base and antagonizing the gay community.

Still, I’m not sure Bondi can lay claim to the title of this saga’s biggest dick after what transpired last week.

By the time you read this, gay people will have married in Florida, now the 36th state in the union to permit same-sex nuptials. That is an amazing thing, considering that it was just six years and two months ago that 62 percent of the state’s voters enshrined antigay discrimination in our constitution. The arc of the moral universe has bent toward justice. Public sentiment has shifted. A court ruling that just a few years ago would have drawn outrage and protests and stern denunciations from every pulpit in the land was instead mostly met with a collective shrug.

Mostly. There are still those attempting to stand athwart history and yell stop. And among them is Duval County Clerk of the Circuit Court and former Jacksonville City Council President Ronnie Fussell. Last week, Fussell — displaying all the maturity of a 3-year-old — announced that if gays can get married, well, his office just doesn’t feel comfortable with that, so no more courthouse weddings.

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” Fussell told the Times-Union. “Personally it would go against my beliefs to perform a ceremony that is other than that.”

It’s a good thing his is a religious post, not an elected office that represents a diverse, pluralistic community, otherwise elevating his personal bigotry over the performance of a basic job function could be weird.

Oddly, this was something Fussell himself seemed to recognize back in 2012, when he was seeking office: “As Clerk,” he pledged on his campaign website, “I will endeavor to make every customer feel respected and well served in his or her interactions with this office.” Except, he forgot to mention, if he disapproves of what those customers do with their genitalia.

Fussell’s not the only clerk pulling this crap — clerks in 14 mostly small, mostly Panhandle and Northeast Florida counties, including Clay and Baker, have done the same thing — but he represents the largest and most metropolitan area, and the one that has to most to lose from being lumped in with those other backwaters. It’s not just that Jacksonville same-sex couples can get legally married today — albeit not at the courthouse — and legally fired for being gay tomorrow, thanks to the City Council’s unwillingness to extend the human rights ordinance.

It’s also that this is yet another embarrassment for a city that doesn’t need it. It was just last month, you’ll recall, that our current Bible-thumping City Council president freaked out over a photography exhibit at an art museum and a local GOP official went on a racist Twitter rant, both of which made national headlines.

And now this.

Is it any wonder Jacksonville seems so stuck in the mud, so unable to gain any mojo, as Shad Khan would say? These things — anachronistic values and an inability to progress — aren’t disconnected. Cities that look backward don’t move forward.

But here’s the good news: We’re better than this. We’re better than the Clay Yarboroughs and the Don Redmans and the Ronnie Fussells. And our better angels are stepping up. Already, area judges and law firms and progressive congregations have volunteered to fulfill the duties that Fussell and his homophobic staff have shirked. And while the city’s titularly Democratic mayor, who can’t bring himself to even back the HRO, quite predictably demurred, the local Democratic Party popped its head up to forcefully demand that Fussell reconsider, pointing to a Florida statute that prohibits clerks from abruptly discontinuing any function that serves the trial court. At the least, a prominent LGBT source told me, a lawsuit is likely.

Here’s my contribution, small though it may be: If you are a judge/lawyer/congregation/Internet-ordained Elvis impersonator and you’re willing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies for what the clerk of court would have charged ($30) or less, shoot me an email. I’ll list these services in a future column, and we’ll carve out a special section for them in our forthcoming Book of Love issue, out Feb. 4.

For now, even if Ronnie Fussell makes us want to pound our heads into our desks, let’s remember that love and fairness have won out, and that this state is a more just and verdant place today than it was a few days ago.

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