CHIPLEY – The debate over same-sex marriage is making its mark locally with the filing of a lawsuit against Washington County Interim Clerk of Court Harold Bazzel after his office refused to issue a marriage license for a local gay couple.
“We followed the law,” said Bazzel. “The statute in Florida says marriage must be between a man and a woman.”
Stephen Schlairet and Ozzie Russ of Chipley filed the suit with the U.S. District Court Wednesday, March 21, naming Bazzel and several other defendants, including Governor Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi. The couple is seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional.
Schlairet and Russ, who have been Chipley residents since they first partnered in 1999, registered as domestic partners in Ft. Lauderdale in 2001.
The couple had not responded to the News’ request for comment at press time, but the formal complaint states their constitutional rights were violated by the clerk’s office’s refusal to issue a marriage license.
“Due to their status as a same-sex couple who cannot legally marry in Florida, Plaintiffs Schlairet and Russ have suffered injury they would not have suffered had they been an opposite sex couple,” read the complaint. “By implementing and enforcing the Statute and Florida Constitutional Amendment, the defendants have deprived, and continue to deprive, the plaintiffs of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”
The suit also cites the couple’s ineligibly for homestead exemption, shared insurance benefits and other legal protections afforded to legally married couples.
Meanwhile, Bazzel says his responsibility is not to make the law, but rather to follow it.
“Until the statute changes or is found unconstitutional, it is the law,” said Bazzel. “No clerk in the state can do anything until a judge rules otherwise or the law changes."
The Attorney General’s office states no further action has taken place in the case so far.