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Alabama appeals decision overturning state’s ban on same-sex marriage

Alabama appeals decision overturning state’s ban on same-sex marriage
Alabama state capitol in Montgomery.
Alabama state capitol in Montgomery.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama on Monday began the process of appealing a federal judge’s decision that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage – a decision that was put on hold to allow time for the appeal.

At least two same-sex couples sought and were refused marriage licenses because of the delay, officials said, but there were no reports of widespread problems or confusion over the issue.

Attorney General Luther Strange’s office filed notice with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta saying it would challenge the ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade of Mobile.

In the latest in a string of victories for same-sex marriage across the Deep South, Granade ruled Friday that Alabama’s legal bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional. Then, at the request of the state, she issued an order late Sunday delaying implementation of her order for 14 days to let the state appeal.

The state asked the 11th Circuit to issue a stay that could delay the issue until after the Supreme Court rules on the legality of gay marriage, which could happen by late June.

Despite the postponement, two women went to the Calhoun County Courthouse in Anniston on Monday trying to obtain a marriage license, said Probate Judge Alice Martin. They were refused, she said.

“There were aware that the stay was in effect,” said Martin. “I think they mainly just came in to inquire.”

Two men showed up at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham seeking a license and were denied, said Probate Judge Alan King.

The president of the state probate judge’s association, Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris, said he hadn’t heard of any problems or confusion over whether counties should issue licenses to same-sex couples.

But county officials will have work to do, should same-sex unions begin in the state, he said.

“Our license application forms say ‘bride’ and ‘groom.’ We’ll have to figure out what to do about that,” said Norris.

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Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange called the delay in Granade’s decision a “step in the right direction” because it will allow the state time to prepare appellate arguments and perhaps settle questions about the effect of the ruling.

Advocates of gay marriage rights were unhappy about the delay but were confident they would ultimately prevail.

“While we’re disappointed that committed, loving gay and lesbian couples in Alabama will not be able to marry (Monday), we’re hopeful the final legal barriers will be overcome quite soon,” Human Rights Campaign Alabama Director Ashley Jackson said.

Some hoping to get married swiftly expressed frustration over the two-week hold.

Tori Sisson and Shante Wolfe of Tuskegee were prepared to camp outside the Montgomery courthouse all night Sunday in hopes of securing a marriage license first thing Monday from a judge who had indicated he would be issuing them absent a stay.

“It’s aggravating. The judge ruled and everybody got so excited and now, this,” Sisson said.

The stay will expire Feb. 9 unless the court extends it. Granade said she will issue a separate order within that time clarifying the effect of her ruling on those seeking and issuing marriage licenses across Alabama.

The ruling striking down the marriage ban came out of a case filed by Cari Searcy and Kim McKeand of Mobile. The couple said the ban prevented Alabama from recognizing their 2008 California marriage and Searcy as a parent to the son they had together. McKeand gave birth to the child in 2005, but the courts rejected Searcy’s adoption petition because the couple was not legally married.

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