Some Alabama counties refuse gay marriages

In response, some same-sex couples file lawsuits

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MOBILE, Ala. — Same-sex marriage spread further across Alabama on Tuesday as more courthouses issued licenses to gays and lesbians, yet some counties still defied a federal judge’s order, so couples took their fight back to court.

The dispute and confusion headed toward a showdown in federal court set for Thursday in Mobile, where gay couples have waited for two days in a courthouse after officials quit issuing marriage licenses altogether — even for heterosexual couples — rather than sell them to same-sex couples.

Jim Strawser and his partner John Humphrey sat outside the shuttered marriage license window at the Mobile County courthouse.

“Come on, you’ve got a federal court order. Open those windows,” Strawser said to no avail.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore threw the state into disarray when, at the 11th hour, he ordered probate judges not to allow gay marriages. He gave the order even though a federal judge ruled the state’s ban was unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the marriages to begin Monday.

Moore’s effort brought immediate comparisons to Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s 1960s vow of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Moore made a national name for himself when he disobeyed a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse in 2003. He was forced from the bench back then, but re-elected to the state Supreme Court in 2012.

Despite Moore’s order, hundreds of jubilant couples have received marriage licenses in large cities, including Montgomery, Huntsville and Birmingham, making Alabama the 37th state where gays have legally wed.

At least 19 of the state’s 67 counties had issued wedding licenses to same-sex couples or said Tuesday they would do so, compared to just seven on Monday. The exact number of counties refusing to sell licenses wasn’t immediately clear.

Elmore County Probate Judge John E. Enslen said in a statement Tuesday that “the dust has quickly settled” and it was clear same-sex marriages were allowed.

“Whether national or not, it now applies to Alabama,” he said.

Robert Povilat and Milton Persinger were among the couples waiting in Mobile. They said they would return every day until they were able to get a license there.

“We sat and waited all day for them to open a window” on Monday, Povilat said. “They never did.”

Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis said he closed the marriage license section of his office because of “conflicting orders” from Moore and U.S. District Judge Callie Granade. Davis said he will keep the section closed until he gets additional clarification, which could come Thursday when the federal judge who overturned the state’s ban scheduled a hearing after a couple asked the court to force Mobile County to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Meanwhile, another lawsuit was filed against the Mobile County probate judge. Moore was named as a defendant.

Moore said probate judges were not bound by Granade’s order last month because the judges were not defendants in an earlier lawsuit brought by two women seeking recognition of their California marriage.

Limestone County Probate Judge Charles Woodruff said he sought legal advice because of the conflicting opinions and decided to begin issuing same-sex licenses Tuesday.

“I wasn’t sure what the law was,” Woodruff said. “I have never received an order from the chief justice of the Supreme Court in an email before.”

Farther north in Autauga County, a woman was arrested and facing a disorderly conduct charge after offering to perform a same-sex wedding inside a courthouse for a lesbian couple who had just received their license.

Autauga County Sheriff Joe Sedinger said the dispute occurred between Probate Judge Alfred Booth and Anne Susan Diprizio, of Prattville, who identified herself as a minister and offered to marry the women. Booth hasn’t allowed marriage ceremonies in his office since gay marriage became legal in Alabama.

Sedinger said the judge called deputies, who found the woman kneeling and refusing to leave in an apparent protest.

Gov. Bentley, a Republican and a Southern Baptist, said he believes strongly that marriage is between one man and one woman, but that the issue should be “worked out through the proper legal channels” and not through defiance of the law.

The governor noted that Alabama is about to be in the spotlight again with the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed after civil rights marchers were attacked and beaten in Selma, Alabama — events chronicled in the Oscar-nominated movie “Selma.”

“I don’t want Alabama to be seen as it was 50 years ago when a federal law was defied. I’m not going to do that,” Bentley said. “I’m trying to move this state forward.”