Louisiana begins issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Michael Robinson, left, and Earl Benjamin, partners for almost 14 years, exchange vows before Judge Paula Brown in a ceremony at Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Monday, June 29, 2015, in New Orleans. Court clerks across the state of Louisiana received the go-ahead to issue same-sex marriage licenses Monday.

Michael Robinson, left, and Earl Benjamin, partners for almost 14 years, exchange vows before Judge Paula Brown in a ceremony at Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Monday, June 29, 2015, in New Orleans. Court clerks across the state of Louisiana received the go-ahead to issue same-sex marriage licenses Monday. Kathleen Flynn, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune via AP

Michael Robinson, left, and Earl Benjamin, partners for almost 14 years, exchange vows before Judge Paula Brown in a ceremony at Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Monday, June 29, 2015, in New Orleans. Court clerks across the state of Louisiana received the go-ahead to issue same-sex marriage licenses Monday. Kathleen Flynn, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune via AP

Michael Robinson, left, and Earl Benjamin, partners for almost 14 years, exchange vows before Judge Paula Brown in a ceremony at Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Monday, June 29, 2015, in New Orleans. Court clerks across the state of Louisiana received the go-ahead to issue same-sex marriage licenses Monday.

Updated 9:00 p.m. CDT

NEW ORLEANS — Two New Orleans men celebrated what apparently was the first same-sex wedding in Louisiana as the last holdout state began issuing licenses to same-sex couples after the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision that marriage is a fundamental right for all Americans.

Gay rights advocates said Louisiana had been the last state to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses when its clerks of court got the go-ahead Monday.

That was a reversal from Friday, when the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association said clerks should wait 25 days after the decision, allowing time for the high court to consider a rehearing.

Monday, the association said that because several parish clerks of court had or would begin issuing the licenses, clerks should begin changes consistent with the Supreme Court opinion to avoid the confusion of multiple starting dates.

“So our attorney says you can issue the license as soon as your office is ready to do so,” the email from Executive Director Debbie D. Hudnall said.

The threat of lawsuits may have hurried the decision, said John Hill of the Forum for Equality Louisiana, an LGBT rights group that helped arrange the wedding of Michael Robinson, 41, and Earl Benjamin, 39.

The forum sent the clerks association a letter late Sunday saying that clerks of court would open themselves up to lawsuits if they refused to grant something the Supreme Court had found to be a fundamental right.

“I think the association of court clerks read our letter and talked to our lawyers and decided we were right,” Hill said.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel, Thomas Enright, said officials who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds don’t have to officiate at such weddings or approve the licenses; someone without religious objections can do it.

The Supreme Court ruling “does not permit states to bar same-sex couples from marriage, but the ruling in no way forces specific individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs, or to perform or facilitate same sex marriages,” Enright wrote in a memo from Jindal’s press office.

He said Jindal’s executive order in May also protects the jobs of state workers in such cases.

Holli Vining, president of the clerks association and clerk of court for Webster Parish, said she had not heard of any same-sex marriage licenses issued before Jefferson Parish.

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