Most Alabama Counties Defy Feds by Blocking Gay Marriage

An outspoken state justice had ordered judges not to go forward with licenses.

ByABC News
February 9, 2015, 6:18 PM

— -- At least 51 of 67 Alabama counties were not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples today in defiance of a federal ruling to do so, according to an ABC News count.

Among the Alabamans affected today were Joe Baker and Russell Wilson, who said their excitement turned to disappointment as they headed to the Mobile, Alabama, courthouse to get a marriage license and found the office window closed.

"We thought the windows were going to open at 8 [a.m.]," Baker said. "They just [kept] delaying it and delaying it."

Instead of signing marriage licenses, Baker and Wilson gathered with several other same-sex couples today in a law office to file new petitions.

"No windows open. No marriage license," Wilson said. "We waited 33 years for this. ... It's a big disappointment."

It was a chaotic day for same-sex couples as a U.S. Supreme Court decision made Alabama the 37th state today to allow same-sex marriages. On Sunday night, a state chief justice ordered county judges to deny the licenses and today Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said he was "disappointed" in a federal appeals court's decision to allow the unions but would not take action against judges who issued licenses.

While some gay Alabamans were able to get marriage licenses, others had less to celebrate. At least 51 counties had refused to issue marriage licenses today, according to the ABC News count.

The turmoil was set in motion last Tuesday when a federal appeals court ruled against delaying the overturning of Alabama's gay-marriage bans, with U.S. District Judge Callie Granade calling it unconstitutional.

State Attorney General Luther Strange then asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay on the marriages until the high court took up the nationwide issue in the spring.

Then, on Sunday night, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, ordered county probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples today, despite Granade's having ruled that probate judges had a legal duty to issue the licenses.

Moore reportedly called homosexuality an "evil" in a 2002 custody ruling. Today, he told ABC News that gay marriage is wrong and that only he had the authority over judges who issue marriage licenses.

"I think redefinition of the word 'marriage' is not found within the powers designated in the federal government," he said. "Do they stop with one man and one man or one woman and one woman? ... Or do they go to multiple marriages or marriages between men and their daughters or women and their sons?"

This morning, however, the U.S. Supreme Court opted not to halt today's start of the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses. Moore said the Supreme Court would decide on the matter but until then, he'd fight against gay marriage.

Many judges started granting marriage licenses today and critics blasted Moore for ordering county judges to go against a federal judge. Some state judges said they wanted further information from the courts before they permitted marriage licenses.

The National Organization for Marriage backs the state chief justice and any probate judges who are defying the Supreme Court today. The group says it encourages "Alabama officials to refuse to comply" with the federal court decision.

But Susan Watson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, called the Alabama chief justice's actions "grandstanding."

She said his order had no authority over probate court judges and that they risked being sued if they followed his order. "I didn't know how long it would take for [same-sex marriage] to happen here," Watson said.

Watson said the ACLU of Alabama had received more than 40 complaints so far from couples who had been turned away. She said the next step for Alabama would be potential legal action to get all the state courts on the same page regarding same-sex marriage licenses.

Moore said today the US Supreme Court would decide on the matter but until then, he'd fight against gay marriage.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.