Alabama resumes gay marriage licenses, but not everywhere

Gay marriage flags

Jessica Dent and Carolee Taylor exchanged vows in front of a flowing fountain in downtown Montgomery within hours of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

“Never thought it would happen in our lifetime,” Taylor, 39, said, admitting she was so nervous and excited this morning that she repeatedly smudged her toenail polish.

A couple for more than 13 years, they said they didn’t want to wait a day longer to be married. “We waited so long. When it came through, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate, the decision and our love,” Dent, 40, said.

The ruling allowed same-sex weddings to resume in the conservative Deep South state, one of 14 states where gay couples could not marry, and one that had fought against legalized same-sex marriage until the last moment. Couples began marrying in some Alabama counties Friday, but in other counties they had to wait as officials resisted, or tried to figure out what to do next.

A few blocks away from Dent and Taylor’s wedding, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said he was “saddened for the future of our country.”

“They’ve just disregarded everything that precedent holds, and they’ve destroyed the foundation of our country, which is family,” Moore said of the ruling.

Earlier this year, Moore told probate judges they were not bound by a federal judge’s ruling overturning Alabama’s ban on gay marriage. And he noted Friday that an Alabama Supreme Court order from March directing judges to refuse to issue gay-marriage licenses has not been lifted. He stopped short of calling for direct resistance, but said states can fight the ruling, as they have decisions allowing slavery or abortion.

“The states can do something about this. They’ve done something about things like Dred Scott and Plessy versus Ferguson. There’s been an uproar continually about Roe versus Wade in 1973. This is a religious battle that is just beginning,” Moore said.

In Birmingham, Jefferson County Probate Judge Sherri Friday said issuing same-sex marriage licenses was just “business as usual.”

“It seems like such a big story, but when you get to the mechanics of it, it’s just that now same-sex couples can marry just like everybody else,” Friday said.

Joseph Baker and Joshua Garrard got a marriage license in Jefferson County while still trying to decide if their last name would be Baker-Garrard or Garrard-Baker.

“It’s very refreshing to know that now the government sees us as equals,” Baker said.

The couple came to Jefferson County after getting turned away in Shelby. Shelby County Probate Judge Jim Fuhrmeister was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon. A clerk said he would not begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses until he has had time to review the Supreme Court’s decision.

But Pike County Probate County Judge Wes Allen said he was “saddened” by the Supreme Court’s decision and said he wouldn’t issue marriage licenses to anyone, gay or straight. Allen cited a section of Alabama law that says counties “may” issue marriage licenses rather than requiring them to do so outright.

Alabama spent much the first half of 2015 in a fight over gay marriage. A judge ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. About 500 same-sex couples were married until the Alabama Supreme Court stepped in and directly ordered probate judges to stop issuing the licenses.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama, which has provided legal guidance and liability coverage to judges during a twisting legal fight over gay marriage, sent probate judges a memo suggesting that judges take applications but not issue the licenses on Friday as lawyers review the ruling.

“We’ve just suggested for this one afternoon, as remarkable as this one afternoon is, we don’t see any harm in doing all due diligence before moving forward,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the group. Brasfield said he presumes that their advice on Monday will be to issue licenses.

Top elected officials in Alabama criticized the high court’s decision, but acknowledged it was law.

“I have always believed in the Biblical definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said in a written statement.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said the court “overturned centuries of tradition and the will of the citizens of a majority of the states.” However, Strange said the court had the final say absent a change to the U.S. Constitution.

State Rep. Patricia Todd, the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, cheered the ruling and said she hoped state probate judges would immediately begin granting marriage licenses to gay couples.

“I’m ecstatic. I’m not shocked, I felt they would give a very strong clear opinion which leaves nothing to chance, which they did. I’m just tickled to death. It validates all of these marriages. Now we’ve got to figure out if probate judges in Alabama will cause any stink, which is a possibility, of course,” Todd said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.