Probate judges in several Alabama counties continue to refuse to issue marriage licenses to any couples. LGBTQ activists view the wholesale snub as a loophole to avoid issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Nearly 16 months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, there are still eight Alabama counties that refuse to issue marriage licenses, AL.com reports.
“We do not issue marriage licenses because our judge chose not to,” said chief clerk Debbie Owens of Washington County. “It’s our judge’s choice.”
The Supreme Court's decision made it illegal for probate judges to withhold marriage licenses to couples based on their sexual orientation, but judges still have the right to refuse marriage licenses altogether.
For instance, Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen has refused to issue any marriage licenses since February 2015, a month after a federal judge overturned the state’s gay marriage ban.
“The Supreme Court said you can’t discriminate against individuals,” said Allen’s spokesman, Angi Stalnaker. “He’s not discriminating because he’s not issuing licenses to anybody in Pike County.”
Legal director Randall C. Marshall of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama noted that the pattern of probate judges refusing to issue any marriage licenses coincided with the legalization of same-sex marriage.
“There is no doubt that the counties that are not issuing licenses to anybody have taken that approach because of the same-sex marriage decision,” said Marshall.
Gary Wright II, a disabled veteran and founder of the government watchdog group Alabama Justice, views the eight counties’ decision as passive aggressive discrimination.
“We thought this was over but, sure enough, Alabama will be the last state in the nation to get through this,” Wright said. “Everyone thinks — especially after the Supreme Court win — that this was settled and everyone’s moved on.”
Marshall believes that a case could be brought against the eight withholding probate judges because “individuals who live in those counties and are by burdened by the refusal of the probate judge may in fact have a constitutional claim.”
On Sept. 30, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court was suspended from his position until 2019 after it was discovered that he had been encouraging lower courts to ignore the Supreme Court's decision, PBS NewsHour reports.
In 2015, after the ban on gay marriage was lifted, there were 1,622 same-sex marriages in Alabama, accounting for roughly 4 percent of all marriages in the state, WTVY reports.