Deaf couple receives marriage license after filing lawsuit saying they were unlawfully denied

A lawsuit has been filed against the Circuit Court of Duval County and its clerk after a deaf couple say they were unlawfully denied a marriage license.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A local couple, who sued the clerk of courts after they were denied a marriage license, now have one, News4JAX learned Monday.

The couple filed the lawsuit against the Circuit Court of Duval County and its clerk after the pair said they were unlawfully denied a marriage license.

Attorney John Phillips confirmed the lawsuit — announced at a news conference Tuesday — would be dismissed.

On Oct. 15, 2021, the 10th anniversary of the day they met, Joel Alfaro and Yusela Machado Silvente, who are deaf, went to the Duval County Clerk of Circuit Court’s office to get their marriage license. According to the lawsuit, Alfaro and Machado Silvente were told that they needed to bring a sign language interpreter with them in order to get a marriage license. The suit states this is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

COURT DOCUMENT: Complaint filed against Circuit Court of Duval County & Clerk of Court

“So what we have is a couple who are who are both deaf who couldn’t communicate with the court clerk to obtain a marriage license, and the court clerk made no accommodations for them to do so,” said John Phillips, one of the couple’s attorneys.

After initially being turned down, Alfaro alleges he made multiple phone calls for several days just to be told — over and over — that they needed to bring their own interpreter to obtain a marriage license.

“The shock and awe of it was really overwhelming. It was pretty devastating. And I kept trying to figure out just how it even happened. It was a lot of, ‘You need to do this yourself. This is on you,’” Machado Silvente said through an interpreter.

Joel Alfaro and Yusela Machado Silvente attend a news conference Tuesday. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Now, nearly a year later, they are still waiting for their marriage license.

“Unfortunately, my family is primarily Spanish speakers. We do not have interpreters at our whim, and we would require that skilled qualified sign language interpreter for such a legal matter,” Alfaro said through an interpreter. “If they provide an interpreter for someone inside the courthouse and other situations, then they should be providing an interpreter at that counter, as well. It really shouldn’t be a different situation.”

News4JAX reached out to the Clerk’s Office, which said, “The Clerk does take the allegations seriously and will continue to ensure we provide the best service possible to each customer in our office.”

Phillips said the complaint will be dismissed once the matter is resolved, and if not, then the family will seek damages.