After Ruling, Alabama Faces Hodgepodge Of Same-Sex Marriage Policies

Feb 10, 2015
Originally published on February 10, 2015 8:53 pm

Gay rights advocates have asked a federal court to order probate judges in Alabama to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Meanwhile, some couples staged a sit-in, of sorts, outside the Mobile County courthouse.

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In Alabama, new litigation has been filed to clarify confusion over same-sex marriage. More counties are granting marriage licenses to gay couples today, but others are refusing and the result is a hodgepodge of policies in the conservative southern state. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: At the Mobile County Probate office today the marriage license windows are closed, aluminum shutters pulled down behind the counter.

ROBERT POVILAT: We're here waiting for these windows to open and be issued marriage licenses.

ELLIOTT: Robert Povilat and his partner Milton Persinger are here for a second day, sitting in front of one of the shuttered windows decorated with seasonal Mardi Gras stickers.

POVILAT: I'm hankering in for the long haul.

ELLIOTT: The couple plans a peaceful sit-in every day until they can get a marriage license. Robert Povilat.

POVILAT: We are here asking for our civil rights and not to be discriminated against.

ELLIOTT: No one - gay or straight - can get a marriage license in Mobile County right now. The probate judge says he's closed the office after conflicting orders from a federal judge and Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. U.S. District Judge Callie Granade of Mobile has struck down the state's gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. But Moore, known for his defiance of federal courts, has told local probate judges they're not bound by the ruling. The result has been different approaches in Alabama's 67 counties. At least 10 probate judges are now issuing same-sex marriage licenses, up slightly from yesterday, the first day gay marriage was legal. But most are not. They're in a quandary, says Covington County probate judge, Ben Bowden.

BEN BOWDEN: I know all my colleagues who are probate judges - and me included - we earnestly want to follow the law. And we feel conflicted right now as to what the law is.

ELLIOTT: For now, he's sending same-sex couples elsewhere.

BOWDEN: I, right now, believe that I'm still bound by an Alabama constitutional amendment and an Alabama state statute that says same-sex marriages are prohibited in the state of Alabama.

ELLIOTT: Bowden says his position is not in defiance of a federal court ruling, but because he's not clear the ruling applies to his jurisdiction. To find clarity in the current chaos, more same-sex couples have sued, and now the Mobile probate judge, the governor and Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore are named as parties in the litigation. Attorney Heather Fann.

HEATHER FANN: For some of us it's already clear, but I think it's a matter of time until it will be clear to all probate judges, and judges generally in the state of Alabama, that same-sex marriage is legal here, that it's to be recognized.

ELLIOTT: Regina Gebauer and her partner of 22 years, Kim Gebauer, sued after they were denied a marriage license in Mobile yesterday.

REGINA GEBAUER: It's a little discriminatory, you know? We can drive to Montgomery and get married, OK? This would be in Roy Moore's backyard. But, you know, this is our home. We want to do it here, like anybody else could do.

ELLIOTT: Kim Gebauer says it seems absurd that they have to sue just to get the legal protections that come with a state-recognized marriage.

KIM GEBAUER: All we're asking for is a marriage license. That's it. It's not extraordinary. It would affect no one but me. (Laughter). That's the thing - no one is affected by it but us.

ELLIOTT: But now their case could affect how other same-sex couples will be treated in probate offices around the state. A Mobile federal judge has scheduled a hearing on Thursday. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.