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Ruling May Force Ala. Probate Judges To Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses


In Alabama, judges have been split over whether to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Today a federal judge in Mobile County ruled that a probate judge there must start issuing the licenses. The decision is expected to signal to judges throughout the state that they too must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been following developments in Mobile today. Debbie, what has been the impact of the judge's ruling?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, the immediate impact is that same-sex couples were getting married in Mobile, Ala., today. You know, on Monday when same-sex marriage became legal in Alabama, there were a lot of counties - in fact, most counties were not allowing same-sex couples to get a license. And the Mobile probate judge had just shut down his marriage license division altogether. So folks had been waiting in front of those shuttered windows all week for them to open. And after the judge's ruling, they opened, and same-sex couples were able to marry including some of the plaintiffs who had sued to make that happen today. Robert Povilat and Milton Persinger were the first couple to get their license. Here's what they had to say.

ROBERT POVILAT: It's a victorious day for civil rights everywhere. We're proud. We're proud of Alabama, and we're proud to be Americans.


ELLIOTT: So the first couples were married in Mobile County after that ruling.

MARTIN: But Debbie, this judge already struck down Alabama's gay marriage ban, so why did she have to rule again?

ELLIOTT: Well, there's been confusion in the state ever since Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore issued an order late Sunday night saying that state judges are not bound by a federal judge's ruling. And U.S. District Judge Callie Granade had already struck down Alabama's gay marriage ban back in January and had lifted a stay allowing, you know, her ruling to go into effect this week. And that has created a lot of confusion. In fact, the lawyer today for the Mobile County probate judge said it was a legal minefield that the probate judges were having to navigate. On one hand you have the state supreme court justice telling you something, and on the other hand you have a federal judge. So the ruling today clarified that.

MARTIN: Did it clear up the confusion statewide?

ELLIOTT: We don't know the answer to that yet. This ruling came fairly late in the day, so we're not sure what other probate judges are going to do. At least one county has issued a statement saying they plan to open their doors tomorrow and allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses. So at least one probate judge has agreed that this provided the clarity that he needed. The question is, will others?

MARTIN: The couples who were able to marry today were obviously pleased with the decision. Was there reaction from the other side of this debate though?

ELLIOTT: You know, in the courtroom today was a close ally of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a gentleman by the name of Dean Young. And on the sidewalk outside after the hearing he said it really doesn't matter what this judge decides. Marriage is still between one man and one woman, and a federal court court ruling can't change that. So, certainly, there are still those who believe that this matter is not settled in Alabama and that Alabama voters may vote it, you know, by something like 81 percent to approve the amendment that banned gay marriage - that that should still be the law in the state.

MARTIN: NPR's Debbie Elliott in Mobile, Ala. Thanks so much, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.