Same-sex marriages still shrouded in confusion

This past Monday morning came bearing confusion for many courthouses in Alabama as same-sex marriages became the focal point of discussions between probate judges, the state’s Supreme Court, and those seeking marriage licenses.

The United States Supreme Court refused a request early in the day from the Alabama Attorney General to keep a hold on issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The state requested the hold be kept in place until the Supreme Court made its final ruling on the matter later in the year.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange expressed regret over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to grant the State of Alabama’s motion for a stay of the January 23, 2015, U.S. District Court ruling striking down Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban.

“I regret the Supreme Court’s decision not to stay the federal district court’s ruling until the high court finally settles the issue this summer,” said Attorney General Strange.  “In the absence of a stay, there will likely be more confusion in the coming months leading up to the Supreme Court’s anticipated ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage.

“With the lifting of the 14-day stay on February 9, 2015, the U.S. District Court order remains in effect, enjoining me from enforcing Alabama’s laws against same-sex marriage in my official capacity as Attorney General.

This meant that all 67 of Alabama’s counties were open to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, however, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore came out with a statement on Feb. 8 instructing probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite the ruling from the federal court.

And then the confusion arrived.

At the time of writing this article, 42 of Alabama’s 67 counties either were not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or not issuing marriage licenses at all, to any type of couple.

The Attorney General attempted to clarify his office’s stance and directive to probate judges.

“To clarify my authority in this matter, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office does not issue marriage licenses, perform marriage ceremonies, or issue adoption certificates.  The Chief Justice has explained in a public memorandum that probate judges do not report to me. I advise probate judges to talk to their attorneys and associations about how to respond to the ruling. Furthermore, I encourage any state agencies with questions about the ruling in Searcy and Strawser to contact the Governor’s Office.”

So what does this mean for Franklin County today and going forward?

Franklin County Probate Judge Barry Moore said on Monday that the county was accepting applications but they were not currently issuing any marriage licenses.

“As of today (Tuesday) we are still accepting applications in the county, but we are not issuing any marriage licenses,” Moore said. “We are still waiting on some clarification before we move forward with anything.”

Moore said that the confusion that came after the federal court ruling has been the cause for caution.

“We have gotten two orders from two different courts,” Moore said. “And because of that we are just trying to make sure we get everything right and in order before we move forward.”

According to Moore a marriage license that is obtained is good for 30 days. During those 30 days an official ceremony must be performed by an ordained minister or pastor of recognized religious societies or current or retired Alabama judges.

Moore said he is unsure how long it will take before clarification on the issue comes.

“Right now I don’t know how long it will be before we get clarification,” Moore said. “It might be later today or it might be a day or two. I just don’t know right now.”

As far as possible penalties that judges or counties could incur during this situation, Moore stressed that he was focused on awaiting clarification on the issue.

“I just want to get clarification before we move forward or do anything,” Moore said. “I want to make sure that we are right and that everything is in line before we move on.”

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