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US judge in Alabama orders county to wed gay couples

February 13, 2015

MOBILE, Alabama (AP) — The federal judge who overturned Alabama’s gay marriage ban ordered a defiant county to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, signaling to judges across the state that they should do the same.

About an hour after U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s ruling, Mobile County opened up its marriage license office and started granting the documents to gay couples, according to David Kennedy, an attorney for one of the couples who wed.

Granade’s ruling went into effect Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused the conservative southern state’s request to stop the marriages. But many Alabama counties are still refusing to wed gays, after the state’s conservative chief justice declared that judges don’t have to hand out same-sex marriage licenses.

Gay rights advocates said they hoped Granade’s order would bring order to the confusion. However, it wasn’t immediately clear what other judges would do.

At least 23 of Alabama’s 67 counties are issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

“Judge Granade’s ruling confirms that the U.S. Constitution requires Alabama probate judges to issue marriage licenses to all qualified couples, gay and straight,” said Randall Marshall, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.

The defiance of a federal court order is a reflection of how deeply divided parts of the U.S. remain over the issue of gay marriage, even as the legal tide has swung sharply in its in recent years. With the Alabama ruling, gay marriage remains banned in only 13 of the 50 U.S. states.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on whether gay couples have a right to marry everywhere in America. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas criticized the Supreme Court’s order on Alabama, saying his colleagues were inappropriately signaling they intend to clear the way for gay marriage across the U.S.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has said Granade’s original ruling, striking down the gay marriage ban, did not apply to probate judges because they were not defendants in the original case.

Granade issued the order after a brief hearing in Mobile. Moore was not present at the hearing since he is not a defendant in the case. However, he was often the subject of the discussion.

Marshall called Moore’s directive, sent hours before courthouses opened Monday, a “ploy” to stop gay marriage in Alabama.

Michael Druhan, an attorney for Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, said Davis closed marriage license operations altogether this week — even for heterosexual couples — rather than navigate what seemed like a legal minefield of conflicting directives.

Druhan could not immediately be reached for comment. He said after the hearing Thursday that they would have to look at any order by Granade before deciding what to do.

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