MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — The federal judge who overturned Alabama's gay marriage ban ordered a reluctant county to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, signaling to probate judges across the state that they should do the same.
About an hour after U.S. District Judge Callie Granade's ruling, Mobile County opened up its marriage license office and started granting the documents to gay couples. Gay rights advocates said they hoped Granade's order would smooth an uneven legal landscape where gay couples have been able to marry in some Alabama counties and not in others. However, it wasn't immediately clear what other judges would do.
At least 23 of Alabama's 67 counties are issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
Robert Povilat and his partner Milton Persinger were the first to get a marriage license in Mobile County. They wore camellia boutonnieres for good luck and exchanged vows in the atrium of the probate office.
"Ecstatic. Ecstatic. We're married," Povilat said.
Randall Marshall, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said he thought the ruling would give guidance to other probate judges and his group was ready to litigate the case county by county, if necessary.
"We hope other probate judges will look at this and see they too could soon be a defendant in a lawsuit if they don't start treating everybody equally," Marshall said.
Mobile and other counties had refused to issue the marriage licenses after Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told probate judges on Sunday they didn't have to because they were not defendants in the original case.
Moore has argued that Granade's Jan. 23 ruling striking down the Bible Belt state's gay-marriage ban was an illegal intrusion on Alabama's sovereignty.
Moore made a name for himself by fighting to keep a Ten Commandments at a courthouse, refusing to remove it even though a federal judge ordered him to. His resistance cost him his job, but he won re-election as chief justice in 2012.
Moore was not at the brief hearing Granade held Thursday. However, he was often the subject of the discussion.
Marshall called Moore's directive, sent hours before courthouses opened Monday, a "ploy" to stop gay marriage in Alabama. A telephone message left with Moore's office was not immediately returned Thursday.
Michael Druhan, an attorney for Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, said Davis closed marriage license operations altogether this week — even for heterosexual couples — rather than navigate what seemed like a legal minefield of conflicting directives.
"If you stand still, you might get shot. If you move, you might blow up," Druhan said outside court.
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