Some still just say 'no' as Alabama tries to adhere to same-sex ruling

Five days after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, a federal judge for the Southern District of Alabama on Wednesday clarified that such couples should be granted licenses to marry. But neither judicial action cuts much ice in parts of Alabama and in other devout areas of the South where same-sex marriage is looked on as anathema.

In Pike County, deep in the southeastern part of the state, officials have gone out of the marriage license business and will continue to avoid the whole same-sex issue by refusing to issue documents to anyone.

Probate Judge Wes Allen stopped issuing marriage licenses in February after the first federal ruling supporting same-sex marriage came down and will continue to not issue licenses, Angi Stalnaker, the judge’s communications consultant, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

"Judge Allen has said we're out of the marriage business and the reason is because that is the only way for him to remain steadfast to his Christian beliefs and stay within the bounds of the law," she said.

Most of the more than 30,000 people in Pike County, about 45 minutes south of the state's capital of Montgomery, support the judge's decision, she said.

Same-sex marriage has come to the Bible Belt after the Supreme Court ruled it legal in all 50 states. But religious feelings run fierce and strong across the region, which means some officials will choose not to issue licenses on religious grounds.

While the number of counties issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples continued to grow Wednesday, there continued to be pockets of resistance. At least 45 of Alabama's counties were issuing licenses to all, but a handful, including Pike, were expected to go out of the license business, which is legal.

In Kentucky, four county clerks were refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples and one in Louisiana was refusing, according to a count by Amanda Snipes, campaign manager for Southerners for Freedom to Marry. Tennessee was fully compliant, Mississippi had seven counties refusing and Texas has 195 of the state’s 254 counties fully compliant or in the process of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she said.

Late Wednesday, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Mississippi's law barring gay marriage was unconstitutional, in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision. Same-sex marriage "is the law of the land and, consequently, the law of this circuit," the appellate court said.

In Texas, some of the few rural county officials who initially opposed same-sex marriage appeared to have figured out how to comply.

In Hood County, south of Ft. Worth, County Clerk Katie Lang initially posted a statement saying she would not issue same-sex marriage licenses due to her religious beliefs, but she posted another statement online late Tuesday saying her office will issue them.

“The religious doctrines to which I adhere compel me to personally refrain from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Nonetheless, in addition to the county clerk offices in the several surrounding counties, as soon as the appropriate forms have been printed and supplied to my office, the County Clerk's Office of Hood County will have staff available and ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses,” Lang wrote.

“Because some have misreported and misconstrued my prior statements, I want to make clear that the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will comply with the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States,” she wrote.

“I am grateful that the First Amendment continues to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of public servants like me. That has not changed since last Friday. As Justice Kennedy stated, 'It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.'"

“I think the real story is how well most places are complying,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who has been active in the same-sex marriage fight. “They are not challenging the law or the outcome, just the timing. The point of confusion is completely gone in light of the ruling, but there will be a handful who drag their feet.”

Federal District Court Judge Callie V.S. Granade had stayed same-sex marriage pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. When the high court ruling came down Friday, proponents of same-sex marriage in Alabama went back to Granade, asking her to clarify. The judge on Wednesday did so, and effectively ended the stay.

Her action, however, didn't end the issue in Marion County, in the northwest corner of Alabama, where Probate Judge Rocky Ridings said he will continue to wait. He cited a state Supreme Court ruling from earlier in the year and the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide to rehear the case.

“Right now everything is up in the air,” Ridings said by telephone. But he expected it will be resolved and agreed that it is unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would reverse itself.

“When everything is settled, what I intend to do is follow the law,” he said.

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston and Muskal from Los Angeles.

Follow @latimesmuskal and @mollyhf for national news


Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


6:47 p.m.: Updated with U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

The original version of this article posted at 12:15 p.m.