DOTHAN, Ala. –– At least nine Alabama counties are refusing to issue marriage licenses to any couples, gay or heterosexual, nearly a month after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, according to a survey by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Two Alabama counties said they will issue wedding licenses after the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The probate judges of Houston and Henry counties have reopened marriage license operations and will issue licenses to anyone. The change came at the end of a 25-day window in which the U.S. Supreme Court could have reconsidered its decision.
The fight about the licenses is expected to spill over into legislative session with proposals to either force judges to issue the marriage licenses or to protect the ones who won’t.
Bibb County Probate Judge Jerry Pow said his intent is to keep marriage license operations closed permanently in his county.
“It’s wrong. It’s not what this country was founded on,” Pow said of legalized same-sex marriage.
Pow said he realizes it is inconvenient for couples to travel to another county, but said he said most constituents have been supportive of his decision. It is about a 30-minute drive from the county seat of Centreville to courthouses in neighboring counties, he said.
Alabama law says probate judges “may” issue licenses instead of “shall.” Judges have cited that language as they closed marriage license operations.
Most of Alabama’s 67 counties already are issuing marriage licenses to anyone, gay or heterosexual. The counties that have closed marriage license operations include Bibb, Autauga, Cleburne, Marengo, Choctaw, Clarke, Washington, Pike and Geneva counties.
Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, has filed legislation in the special session that would remove probate judges from the marriage license business.
The legislation, which failed to win approval in the regular session earlier this year, would do away with marriage licenses in the state and replace them with marriage contracts. Couples would have the contracts recorded at the probate office.
Albritton could not immediately be reached for comment.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said the Human Rights Campaign is reviewing Albritton’s legislation. Todd, the state’s only openly gay legislator and the director of HRC-Alabama, has discussed trying to change state law from “may” to “shall” so probate judges must issue the licenses. Todd said she first wanted to see whether Albritton’s bill was something she could support.
Todd said her goal is to get the counties back open for weddings for all people. However, she said changing marriage license procedure was a major change in state law to give “cover” to probate judges who don’t want to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
“You are just handing someone a piece of paper. Come on,” Todd said.
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