The US Supreme Court cleared the path for the first gay marriage to take place Monday in Alabama, despite a last-minute state-issued request to further stay a temporary hold on a federal judge's decision overturning the ban on same-sex unions.
Courthouses across the conservative southern state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after last month's ruling by US District Court Judge Callie Granade — which found Alabama's 2006 gay marriage ban to be unconstitutional — went into effect Monday morning.
Granade's order had been put on hold until February 9 to allow the state to make necessary preparations, including to marriage license forms. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange filed a motion calling on the Supreme Court to prolong the hold until justices make a ruling on gay marriage restrictions in 13 states across the nation, which is anticipated for mid-2015. But the Supreme Court said it would not stand in the way of same sex unions and denied Strange's request.
Gay marriages were also performed Monday in spite of a last minute attempt by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — an outspoken advocate against gay marriage who once described homosexuality as "evil" — to block same-sex unions. Late Sunday night, Moore issued a last minute decree instructing probate judges to defy Granade's order.
"Effective immediately, no probate judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent" with state law, he wrote in the order.
LGBT and civil rights advocates criticized Moore, pointing out that he did not have the authority to order county judges to flout a federal ruling. Many probate judges agreed, granting licenses to hundreds of gay couples lined up — and some who had camped out overnight — outside courthouses Monday hoping to become some of the first to marry in the state.
Others reportedly sided with Moore, with judges in at least four counties refusing to grant licenses for same-sex couples, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Susan Watson, executive director of ACLU Alabama, told the Associated Press those judges risk lawsuits for failing to comply with Granade's ruling.
"I would really think long and hard before defying a federal court order," Watson said.
Several judges had also indicated ahead of time they would stop performing marriage ceremonies altogether to avoid marrying gay couples with couples in 22 counties reportedly unable to obtain wedding licenses. In anticipation of the roadblocks, civil rights groups had assembled officiants and ministers willing to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies outside courthouses.
Alabama, considered one of the most socially conservative states across the Bible Belt, has now become the 37th state to allow same-sex couples to wed.
Moore is no stranger to controversy and in the past has made several inflammatory comments about Muslims and the LGBT community . In 2003 he was temporarily removed as chief justice for refusing to obey a federal order to remove a giant Ten Commandments tablet from the state's judicial building.
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