MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Nearly one-third of Alabama counties on Monday were not issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, or had shut down marriage license operations altogether, despite Friday’s landmark U.S Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.
An Associated Press telephone survey of counties on Monday found that at least 32 of the state’s 67 counties were issuing the licenses to gay couples. However, at least 22 counties were not issuing the licenses, with many of those shutting down marriage license operations altogether as probate judges said they needed time to sort out the ruling.
Rep. Patricia Todd, the state’s only openly gay lawmaker and the head of the Human Rights Campaign-Alabama, said the probate judges needed to accept that the issue was settled with the U.S Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage the law of the land.
“It’s perplexing to me that they are not able to do their job,” Todd said. “Unfortunately, I think it’s probably going to continue until one gets sued and thousands of taxpayer dollars are spent on a lawsuit they are going to lose.”
In March, in response to a request from two conservative groups, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges not to issue licenses to gay couples. On Monday, the court issued an order that noted a 25-day rehearing period for the landmark marriage ruling and asked the judges and the conservative groups to file motions “addressing the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision” on the March injunction by July 6.
At least two probate judges pointed to the order from the state’s highest court to explain why they were not issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Randolph County Probate Judge George Diamond said he is waiting for the end of a 25-day appeal period before he begins issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Diamond said the county could begin sooner if it receives a directive from the state’s high court.
“Right now my attorneys are telling us to hold off and see what this appeal is,” he said.
Marion County Probate Judge Rocky Ridings said the county is not issuing same-sex marriage licenses after receiving the Alabama Supreme Court’s order.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who recused himself from the Alabama marriage case because of his past statements, did not participate in Monday’s order. He did issue a separate statement, however, saying that “in no way does the order instruct probate judges of this State as to whether or not they should comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.”
Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said probate judges could face court sanctions if they issue marriage licenses to heterosexual couples but refuse to give them to gay couples.
“There is no justification for delaying or obstructing the clear message of the Supreme Court of the United States - marriage equality must begin in Alabama, and probate judges who stand in the way of that legal imperative risk exposing themselves to legal consequences,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement.
Some counties began granting the licenses to gay couples on Friday. More counties followed suit Monday after the Association of County Commissions of Alabama sent a memo advising probate judges to follow the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
“We are going to issue a license to every couple that qualifies under the law,” Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris said. “We’re going to follow the law.”
Shelby County began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Monday, after delaying on Friday so that Probate Judge James Fuhrmeister could review the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.
The delays won praise from some same-sex-marriage opponents.
“Thank God that we have probate judges who stand for that which is right to keep their counties out of the principle of marrying that which God says cannot be married,” John Killian, pastor at Maytown Baptist Church, told a news conference in front of the Alabama Supreme Court building.
State law says that probate judges “may” issue marriage licenses, meaning they aren’t required to issue them. Several judges have cited that provision as they ponder what to do.
“I expect, in those counties, voters will get tired of having to drive to other counties to get marriage licenses,” Watson said. “That’s just ridiculous. It’s a hassle for everyone.”