As of 11:30 a.m., windows remain closed at the Mobile County Probate Courthouse, where same-sex couples have been waiting more than three hours to obtain marriage licenses. The windows normally open at 8 a.m.
Feb. 9 was supposed to mark the end of a 14-day stay issued by U.S. Judge Ginny Granade, that temporarily held off her Jan. 23 ruling outlawing a longstanding ban on same-sex marriages in Alabama. Last week, Mobile Probate Court staff said marriage licenses would be issued today.
Though several heterosexual couples were turned away as well, attorneys representing many of those attempting to obtain licenses say those couples were instructed to return at noon.
“Judge (Don) Davis is upstairs right now holding court, and those windows are still closed in defiance of the federal court order,” said attorney Christine Hernandez, who represents Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, the Mobile couple whose case effectively legalized same-sex marriage in Alabama as of today.
“The fact that Judge Davis is not issuing a statement, is not opening the windows, has not issued any kind of indication as to when he will open the windows speaks volumes as to whether or not he’s going to comply with the federal courts order,” she said.
Currently, about 100 people are gathered at the courthouse, as some show support outside by holding signs and others patiently wait inside to hear instructions on what might happen next.
According to Hernandez, who gave the crowd a message from Mobile County Probate Court Chief of Staff Mark Erwin, “the judge is holding status quo for the moment.” She went on to say that Erwin could not give a specific time that will change.
David Kennedy, an attorney who also represents Searcy and McKeand, said the United State’s Supreme Court vote of 7-2 not to extend the stay this morning means “gay marriage is the law of the land in Alabama.” Alabama Chief Justice Judge Roy Moore issued an order attempting to stop the issuance of licenses late last night, and Kennedy went on speculate why he would do such a thing.
“Sometimes good politics and a correct interpretation of the law don’t mix,” he said. “And, some people are sore losers.”
Despite Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange’s request for an extended stay on federal judge Ginny Granade’s ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the state, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately denied his request, and same-sex couples have been obtaining marriage licenses across the state.
“I say this as an Alabamian, as much as an attorney on this case or anything else,” Kennedy said. “It disappoints me greatly that Jefferson County is able to make this work, Madison County is able to make this work, Montgomery County has been able to make this work, but for some reason, we aren’t able to do it here at the same time everybody else is. “We’re receiving photos of wedding ceremonies happening in Birmingham, and it’s just greatly disappointing to me that our second biggest county is failing on this and is way behind. Way behind.”
According to attorneys Hernandez and Kennedy, it is Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s order handed down last night that has same-sex marriage licenses on hold in Mobile County, as Davis is waiting to decide whether to follow Moore’s order or the federal law. In his order, Moore instructed probate judges in Alabama not to issue any marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“As far as I know, they are ready to go,” Hernandez said. “I believe they had some IT people here all weekend preparing the computers, getting everything in order. However, what changed was at 9 o’clock last night, Roy Moore issued an order, and Judge Davis has been in meetings all morning, at least for the last couple of hours, so we were told, with his counsel, and we expected some kind of statement from them with regards to these windows.”
Because the windows remain closed, Hernandez and Kennedy have filed for contempt of court and will be filing individual complaints for those individuals who have been denied marriage licenses today. Though the complaints will be filed collectively, Hernandez said it is not a class action lawsuit.
“We will be seeking individual damages from the state … we’ve been entrenched with trying to resolve this issue civilly and peacefully, and it does not appear it is going to be resolved. I think they’ve (probate court) taken a position of silence,” she said.
Further, Hernandez said in asking for civil contempt, there could be fines and “the very real possibility that somebody could go to jail.”
Couples denied licenses earlier — heterosexual and homosexual alike — are planning to reconvene at the probate courthouse at noon. Lagniappe will continue to update this story as new details are made available.
UPDATE 12:30 p.m. Attorneys Hernandez and Kennedy said they have filed complaints and process servers are working to subpoena Davis, Erwin, Moore and Gov. Robert Bentley.
Hernandez and Kennedy said they have filed a contempt of court in the Searcy lawsuit, but maintain this is an entirely different lawsuit seeking an injunction from Judge Granade for immediate relief.
“Alabamians need to be able to transact business in Alabama,” Kennedy said.
Furthermore, they want everyone to know that anyone wishing to get a marriage license does not have to obtain one in the county in which they are from. Instead, individuals may drive to Flordia or any county in Alabama where marriage licenses are currently being issued. Licenses obtained elsewhere will still be recognized by the state, they said.
12:40 p.m. Mobile County Probate Courthouse will not open today to issue marriage licenses to homosexual or heterosexual couples, according to Hernandez.
“Someone from this office needs to step out and tell us where we stand on marriage,” said Robert Pvilat, who arrived at the courthouse at 7 a.m. hoping to get a marriage license.
1:30 p.m. In another press conference, Hernandez said Joe McEarchern, chief clerk for Mobile County Probate Court, asked for an update regarding federal court motions.
“We gave him an update as far as where our motion was sitting right now, (it) is on the desk of Judge Granade, and we also gave him the information that Gov. Bentley had put out a statement, and he immediately went into the office to make sure that information gets relayed to Judge Davis so perhaps we may have some movement … ” she said.
2:50 p.m. Mobile County marriage office remains closed pending “further instructions.”