Two-thirds of Alabama counties have agreed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to gay rights groups, a dramatic turnaround from earlier this week when all but a handful were holding the licenses back.
The change in policy came after a federal judge on Thursday ordered officials in Mobile County to comply with her ruling striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The decision led a number of probate judges to conclude that the ruling also applies to them, even though they got conflicting orders from the state’s chief justice, Roy Moore.
“Once that was done yesterday, [the probate judge] was satisfied we wouldn’t end up in a lawsuit or in trouble, so we’re doing it,” said a woman who identified herself as a manager in the Cherokee County probate office, one of at least 42 counties where same-sex marriage licenses are now available in Alabama, according to Equality Alabama, a local gay rights group. The manager declined to give her name because she wasn’t authorized to speak for the office.
“It wasn’t ever a thing of us not wanting to, morally or religiously, we were just kind of waiting for clarification,” she said.
Several counties indicated they would begin issuing the licenses next week. Still, that left about 20 of the state’s 67 counties as apparent holdouts. Some may yet decide to open their doors Friday or next week. At least eight plan not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until they are compelled to do so personally by a federal judge or will wait until the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision later this year on whether states may ban same-sex marriage.
Those eight are being represented by the Liberty Counsel, a public interest law firm.
“There’s a long way before this is completely adjudicated,” said Mat Staver, chairman of the Liberty Counsel.
One of the probate judges he is representing, Nick Williams of Washington County, said he will wait until the Supreme Court rules. His office has been issuing marriage licenses, but he has instructed his staff not to give them to same-sex couples. So far, no same-sex couples have applied, he said.
“I’m simply standing for the Constitution,” Williams said.
But gay rights groups said they will continue their push to make marriage licenses widely available in Alabama, which joined 36 states and the District this week in legalizing same-sex unions.
“We are proud and pleased to see those probate judges taking the proper steps to be on the right side of the law,” said Ben Cooper, chairman of Equality Alabama. “We will continue to fight to ensure all same-sex couples in Alabama are issued licenses in the county where they reside.”