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Alabama Joins 36 States In Allowing Same-Sex Marriage


We begin this hour in Alabama, where some same-sex couples were able to get married for the first time today. The marriages began after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block a federal ruling that struck down the state's gay marriage ban. But not every gay or lesbian couple who wanted to marry today could. Last night, Alabama's chief justice ordered probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to these couples. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports that whether there was a wedding depended on the judge.

TORI SISSON: With this ring, I thee wed.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Tori Sisson and Shante Wolfe of Tuskegee exchanged wedding vows this morning outside the Montgomery County courthouse.

SISSON: We got married (laughter).

ELLIOTT: Sisson says they had camped out all night in order to be the first lesbian couple granted a marriage license in Alabama's capital.

SISSON: It seems like this is a symbol that progress is definitely being made.

ELLIOTT: Sisson and Wolfe and other same-sex couples were able to marry despite a late-night order from Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. He told probate judges they were bound by the state's Sanctity of Marriage Amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Moore had been warning the judges that they were not subject to a Mobile federal judge's ruling that struck down the state's gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. Here is what he said in an interview last week.


ROY MOORE: The probate court judges of this state do not have any obligation to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

ELLIOTT: Despite Moore's warning, Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed performed ceremonies for same-sex couples today.

STEVEN REED: I don't think that the chief justice has the power or authority to unilaterally decide what we do on the county level when there's a federal court order saying that there's a law that's unconstitutional.

ELLIOTT: But not all of Alabama's probate judges had the same interpretation, creating a patchwork of policies depending on the county in which you tried to get married. In Tuscaloosa County, Alexandrea Davenport says she and her partner were turned away.

ALEXANDREA DAVENPORT: We had barely gotten a sentence in saying that we would like to request a marriage license and we were told they would not be performing same-sex marriages today or issuing licenses today.

ELLIOTT: They were instead handed a copy of Judge Moore's order.

RICHARD COHEN: Judge Moore has sewn a lot of confusion among the probate judges.

ELLIOTT: Richard Cohen is president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.

COHEN: It's a lot like what George Wallace did in the 1960s. Federal courts told public officials to desegregate the schools. Wallace gave them contrary instructions.

ELLIOTT: Eventually, Wallace was forced by federal courts to stand down. Cohen expects that to happen in this case as well. In a statement, Republican Governor Robert Bentley said, quote, "we will follow the rule of law in Alabama." He and Attorney General Luther Strange expressed regret that the U.S. Supreme Court did not put same-sex marriage on hold in Alabama when the High Court is set to decide the issue later this year.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.