MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gay couples began getting married in Alabama on Monday morning, despite an 11th-hour attempt from the state’s chief justice — an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage— to block the weddings.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning refused to block the marriages and let a hold on the federal ruling striking the ban expire. Minutes later, Alabama became the 37th state where gays and lesbians can legally wed as probate judges began granting the licenses to couples, some of whom had been lined up for hours and exited courthouses to applause.
“I figured that we would be that last ones — I mean, they would drag Alabama kicking and screaming to equality,” said Laura Bush, who married Dee Bush in a ceremony in a park outside the courthouse in Birmingham after receiving a license.
“I remember California, when they were giving it, then it was taken away, and they gave it back,” Dee Bush said. So the couple, who has been together for seven years and has five kids between them, decided to “get in there while we can and get it done.”
But not all judges issued licenses, despite the January federal ruling that the state’s statutory and constitutional bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional. Some followed a Sunday night order from Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore that they refuse to give same-sex couples licenses.
Moore sent probate judges a letter saying that he still viewed such licenses as illegal under the Alabama Constitution and arguing that the federal judge’s order did not require that they be issued.
It was a dramatic return to defiance for the chief justice. He was removed from the post in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a washing machine-sized Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. Critics lashed out that Moore had no authority to tell county probate judges to enforce a law that a federal judge already ruled unconstitutional.
Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said she heard of at least four counties where judges had refused to issue the marriage licenses.
After the Supreme Court denied State Attorney General Luther Stranger’s requested that the hold on the federal ruling be extended, he said in a statement that the decision was likely to lead to more confusion. The high court is expected to take up the issue of gay marriage and issue a ruling later this year on whether same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide.
In a statement, Gov. Robert Bentley noted that the Supreme Court would rule on this issue later and said, “I am disappointed that a single Federal court judge disregarded the vote of the Alabama people to define marriage as between a man and woman.” He said he agreed with the court’s dissenting opinion that the ruling represents a “cavalier attitude” toward the states.
In Montgomery, paramedics Melissa and Kimberly Martin finished their night shifts and decided to get married on the spot after seeing that the judge was issuing licenses. They got married in their “Roll Tide” University of Alabama football T-shirts and planned a fancier ceremony later.
“We had thought about going to New York or Florida. How amazing is it that we can get married here at home,” Kimberly Martin said.
Reeves reported from Birmingham.