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Louisiana officials delay issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Louisiana officials delay issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Updated: 8:00 p.m. CDT

NEW ORLEANS — A historic Supreme Court ruling upholding same-sex marriage as a nationwide right failed to immediately topple roadblocks to legal gay unions in Louisiana, where a constitutional ban was approved by voters in 2004 and upheld by a federal judge last year.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said he saw nothing in the 5-4 ruling that required immediate granting of licenses. The Louisiana Clerks Association issued a statement saying it was advising clerks of court to wait for the end of a 25-day period for the high court to consider a rehearing.

In New Orleans, where licenses are issued by the state health department’s vital records office, Michael Robinson, 41, and Earl Benjamin, 39, waited for hours Friday before being told that the department considered the Louisiana Constitution’s same-sex marriage ban intact – for now. It would remain in force, a department news release said, until the case was officially closed in the Ohio-based appeals court that propelled the issue to the Supreme Court.

“It’s disappointing that Louisiana will not be following the movement that is happening around the country today,” Robinson said at a news conference at the civil courthouse in New Orleans.

John Hill, spokesman for Forum For Equality Louisiana, said all legal means of expediting same-sex marriage were being explored.

More than 200 supporters of the decision gathered in Jackson Square in New Orleans’ French Quarter to celebrate the high court decision while calling on the state to end delays in its implementation.

They chanted “love wins” before singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and pledged allegiance to the flag, with many shouting the final words: “And justice for all.”

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal decried the ruling as a threat to religious freedom and Caldwell called it an affront to Louisiana voters. But neither gave any indication they would try to defy the high court.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for some of the clerks to meet with their counsel and decide how they’re going to go forward,” said Chris Otten, chairman-elect of the gay rights group Forum for Equality Louisiana. “But this is happening.”

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Kenneth Upton, attorney for the organization Lambda Legal, filed a letter Friday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking an immediate reversal of U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman’s 2014 order upholding Louisiana’s ban. The 5th Circuit heard arguments on bans in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas several months ago and decisions in each were pending. Also pending was a state Supreme Court decision in an appeal of a state district judge’s ruling against the ban.

“Our agencies will have no choice but to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision when the 5th Circuit Court orders the ruling into effect – even though we disagree with it and believe it was wrongly decided, and has nothing to do with the Constitution,” said Mike Reed, a spokesman for Jindal.

“As the mayor of a city that has long embraced the principles of inclusion, tolerance and diversity, I am more than pleased to see the Supreme Court and the United States embrace these same principles,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

Jindal, campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, took the opposite view.

“This decision will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision,” Jindal said in a fundraising email. “This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.”

Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a 2004 amendment to the state constitution that banned same-sex marriages in the state and prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions. Gay rights advocates have said polling shows a shift in voter attitudes since then.

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“I am extremely disappointed by this decision,” Caldwell, who had fought to support the state ban, said in a news release. “It fails to respect traditional marriage as defined by Louisiana voters, and is yet another example of the federal government intrusion into what should be a state issue.”

In Lafayette, Roman Catholic Bishop Michael Jarrell issued a statement urging Catholics to not attend same-sex marriages.

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