In the wake of a federal appeals court’s decision to deny a request for an extended stay delaying the legalization of same-sex marriage in Alabama, probate courts across the state are gearing up to start issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples on Monday, if not sooner.Chief Clerk Joe McEarchern said the Mobile County Probate Office is “going to follow the law,” and officials with Baldwin County’s Probate Office too said they too would begin performing same-sex marriages beginning Feb. 9, if the current stay issued from U.S. Judge Ginny Granade is lifted as expected.
Attorneys for Cari Searcy, the plaintiff who promoted the lawsuit that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, filed a request Feb. 3 to lift the stay early, in light of the decision from Atlanta’s 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Granade could still grant that request, which would render the current stay ineffective immediately.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has also filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to delay any marriages until the high court can reach a federal ruling later this year. However, much like the 11th Circuit, the Supreme Court has denied similar requests from several other states in previous cases.
“We’re going to be ready and we’re going to follow the law,” McEarchern said. “On Monday, we’ll be issuing marriage licenses to all couples, regardless of their gender.”
Probate officials in Mobile said it’s understood that probate offices across the state are going to be doing the same thing, but they couldn’t officially speak for those agencies.
McEarchern did say there would be a slight issue to tackle related to the way the current marriage licence documents read, but it wouldn’t prevent any couples from getting married.
The current forms say “bride” and “groom,” and are received by local probate offices from the state, through the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).
“I’m sure there’s going to be a change, but I’m not sure how quickly that’ll happen, and we don’t know what the new words on the form will be either,” McEarchern said. “A lot of words internally we can change, and we are prepared to, but we can’t do that until we get directions from the state.”
In the meantime, same-sex couples will have to decide whether they want to be considered “bride” or “Groom,” but probate officials assured Lagniappe the licenses would still be issued and would be legally binding.
The Alabama Probate Judges Association is meeting Feb. 4 in Montgomery with officials from the ADPH to determine how the issue with the old forms will be handled moving forward.
McEarchern said the Mobile office didn’t have any way of knowing how many couples might be expected to turn up on Monday, but he did say same-sex couples could get an early start by filling out paperwork online at http://probate.mobilecountyal.gov/ or at a kieosk at the courthouse at 151 Government Street.
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