Boy oh boy, did I get a surprise phone call Monday. I live in Tampa, just south of Pasco County, and Monday morning I faxed a letter to Paula O’Neil, Pasco Clerk of Court about their discontinuing performing marriage ceremonies in deference to the bigotry of some of her assistant clerks. You can read the letter here.
About 3PM, I got a phone call from Ms. O’Neil. My letter had raised concerns with her, and of course, she started with the “misquoted and out of context meme,” and asked if she could elaborate. I was impressed that she called, and that we spent 45 minutes discussing the issue.
First, I will concede that the article, as is often the case, did publish some comments of Ms O’Neil out of context…big surprise, but she did, after some prodding admit that, while dropping this service had been under consideration for a few years because of budget cuts, it was the gay marriage issue, and the concerns of some of her staff (who came to her “in tears saying they just couldn’t do it”).
I put it to her this way, “Ms. O’Neil, if one or more of your assistant clerks ever came to you and said they just couldn’t conduct a ceremony for an interracial couple, that it just went against their personal beliefs, would you condone that or accommodate it in any way…would you have stopped performing all ceremonies because of that?” She said no, of course not. I asked her to explain to me the difference, from a civil and constitutional rights perspective, the difference between an interracial marriage and a same-sex marriage. After some sidestepping, and then a long pause she said, “I can’t, and now that you’ve presented it that way, I can see why this is a problem and why people would see it as discrimination.” She said she never meant to discriminate, but I explained there was no way it could be viewed as anything else. I really didn’t let her off the hook, and she really didn’t argue or try to make excuses.
I reminded her of the story of the southern cities that filled in municipal pools rather than allow African-American Children to swim in them, and said, “Whether you meant to or not, you just backed up the cement truck and hit the dump lever, and that will be your legacy and that of Pasco County 100 years from now.
To her credit, I think she now understands the harm and damage she’s done, and has since gotten permission to waive the three-day waiting period, and had notaries and judges available at the Courthouse those first days to handle anyone wanting to be married there. It was the best we could come up with to try to mitigate the damage.
I have to give Ms O’Neil credit for being willing to have a very civil discussion, present her side, and listen fully to my side, and try to arrive at a reasonable remedy.
So I call that a good day.