Probate Office still not to issue marriage licenses

Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 14, 2015

More than two-thirds of Alabama’s 67 counties were issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Friday, but Pike County wasn’t one of them.

Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen said his office remained “out of the marriage business” despite a federal judge’s ruling forcing the Mobile County probate judge to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

“The ruling from Thursday does not impact this office,” Allen said. “The ruling was specific to the Mobile County probate judge.”

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Allen was referring to Federal Judge Callie “Ginny” Granade’s ruling on Thursday, which said Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis must issue same-sex marriage licenses. Like many of his peers statewide, Davis had refused to issue the licenses even though Granade had ruled in an earlier case that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. Her ruling, which took effect Feb. 9, has thrown Alabama and its probate judges into confusion, compounded by Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore’s order earlier this week telling probate judges not to issue same-sex licenses.

Allen had said on Feb. 6 that his office would no longer issue marriage licenses or perform marriage ceremonies, citing Alabama Code Section 30-1-9, which states “Marriage licenses may be issued by the judges of probate of the several counties.”

Allen said then the word “may” in the statue shows that Alabama law does not mandate that he issue marriage licenses.

He also cited Alabama Law Code Section 30-1-7, which he said gives Probate Judges discretion regarding the performance of marriage ceremonies.

“The word ‘may’ implies that I have a choice,” Allen said earlier. “At this time, I am exercising my right to choose not to issue any marriage licenses to anyone.”

Allen said his choice to opt out of issuing marriage licenses allowed him to work within the constraints of the law and to adhere to religious beliefs.

As of Friday, only 27 of Alabama’s 67 probate judges were not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Among those was Shelby County Probate Judge Jim Furhmeister, who shared Allen’s interpretation that the most recent federal court ruling applied did not apply to his office.

Granade’s order pertaining to Davis “has no more legal impact on Shelby County than if it were issued by a United States District Judge in Georgia, Mississippi or California. Shelby County is not in Judge Granade’s District,” he said in a statement. “The Shelby County Probate Judge is not a party in those civil suits and is not under the jurisdiction of her orders. No court orders have been issued which alter the legal conclusion that the law which applies in Shelby County, Alabama at this point in time is the law of Alabama as adopted by the Alabama Legislature and approved by a vote of the people of Alabama.”

Unlike Allen, Furhmeister’s office is issuing licenses to heterosexual couples.

However, neighboring Crenshaw County has begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Crenshaw County Probate Judge James V. Perdue issued a statement Friday, illustrating the differences in interpretation by judges. He said he believes Granade’s Thursday ruling applies to all probate judges in the state.

“I believe Judge Granades’ order was directed at all probate judge’s so we’ll issue,” said Probate Judge James V Perdue. “This is not easy, and I don’t regret anything the state’s done,” Perdue said. “I also think that it’s clear now.”