Family Law

Most Alabama counties refuse gay-marriage licenses after defiant order by state chief justice

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Probate judges in most Alabama counties refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday, a day after the state’s chief justice ordered the judges to ignore a federal judge’s decision striking down the state’s ban on gay marriage.

As many as 52 of the state’s 67 counties refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Gay couples were able to marry, however, in about a dozen areas, including Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville, report the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Probate judges were caught in the middle after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the federal judge’s ruling and Alabama’s chief justice, Roy Moore, ordered the judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Washington Post termed the situation “judicial chaos.” The Times says it was unclear how many judges were acting out of defiance of the federal judge’s ruling and how many were simply weighing how to proceed among the conflicting pronouncements.

Among those supporting Moore is Mat Staver, chief executive of Liberty Counsel, who argues a federal judge does not have jurisdiction to order the state’s probate judges to hand out marriage licenses to gay couples. But David Dinielli, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, had criticism for Moore. “The chief justice has decided to make a spectacle of himself, the Alabama judiciary and the state,” he told the Times.

On Monday, two lawyers asked the federal judge who overturned Alabama’s ban on gay marriage to hold a Mobile County judge in contempt for refusing to issue any marriage licenses. U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade refused, saying the judge was not a party to the litigation. In separate legal actions, the lawyers are seeking damages for at least six couples unable to get marriage licenses on Monday, the Post says.

Among those turned away were Beth Ridley and Rose Roysden, who tried to get a marriage license in Florence, according to the Times story. Judge James Hall told the couple he was “caught up in the middle of this” and would not issue a marriage license. The couple drove to Birmingham where they got a license and exchange vows.

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