Updated: 2:20 p.m. CST
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama became the 37th U.S. state with marriage equality as same-sex couples there began getting married in a handful of counties on Monday, despite an 11th-hour attempt from the state’s chief justice – an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage – to block the weddings.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning refused to block the marriages and let a hold on the federal ruling striking the ban expire. Minutes later, Alabama became the 37th state where gays and lesbians can legally wed as probate judges began granting the licenses to couples, some of whom had been lined up for hours and exited courthouses to applause.
“I figured that we would be that last ones – I mean, they would drag Alabama kicking and screaming to equality,” said Laura Bush, who married Dee Bush in a ceremony in a park outside the courthouse in Birmingham after receiving a license.
“I remember California, when they were giving it, then it was taken away, and they gave it back,” Dee Bush said. So the couple, who has been together for seven years and has five kids between them, decided to “get in there while we can and get it done.”
But not all judges issued licenses, despite the January federal ruling that the state’s statutory and constitutional bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional. Some followed a Sunday night order from Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore that they refuse to give same-sex couples licenses.
Moore sent probate judges a letter saying that he still viewed such licenses as illegal under the Alabama Constitution and arguing that the federal judge’s order did not require that they be issued.
It was a dramatic return to defiance for the chief justice. He was removed from the post in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a washing machine-sized Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. Critics lashed out that Moore had no authority to tell county probate judges to enforce a law that a federal judge already ruled unconstitutional.
Greg Norris, president of the Alabama Probate Judge’s Association, said he had heard that only four of the state’s 67 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples – likely due to the conflicting state and federal orders. Norris said that in his rural Monroe County, his office didn’t issue any marriage licenses.
AL.com reports that at least seven counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Other probate judges have said that they may change their policies within hours or days.
“I’m hoping we can get some clarification,” Norris said.
Russell County Probate Judge Alford Parden said his office had turned away at least one same-sex couple because of Moore’s order but was issuing licenses to heterosexual couples. He said he considered the letter from Moore, the state’s top judicial officer, a binding court order.
Parden said he felt caught between state and federal court orders. “I think every probate judge in the state feels that way. … It’s an unfortunate event for all of us.”