Although a handful of states are still grumbling over the Supreme Court’s decision last week to make marriage equality legal across the country, some of the most stubborn barriers to same-sex nuptials are now starting to break down.
Gay and lesbian couples began receiving marriage licenses in Mississippi Monday, following a statement from the attorney general’s office declaring the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges “the law of the land.” In Louisiana – the final holdout to Friday’s decision – three parishes also started issuing the state’s first marriage licenses to same-sex couples this week, making marriage equality officially a go in all 50 states.
Speaking in an interview with The New Orleans Advocate, Alesia LeBoeuf of Jefferson Parish said becoming one half of Louisiana’s first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license Monday was “overwhelming.”
“It’s not so much about being the first one to get the license as it is just getting a license and having the opportunity to marry the one you’ve always wanted to be with your whole life,” LeBoeuf said. She has been with her partner, Celeste Autin, for 38 years.
Jefferson Parish’s Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer was the first to begin issuing marriage licenses to all couples in Louisiana this week after having his agency’s legal counsel review Friday’s decision in Obergefell. That ruling, authored by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, found the U.S. Constitution grants same-sex couples the right to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”
Still, some southern states were not immediately ready to comply. After marriage licenses were issued to less than a handful of same-sex couples in Mississippi Friday, the state’s Republican Attorney General Jim Hood put a stop to the practice by saying the Supreme Court’s decision was “not effective immediately in Mississippi.” His office clarified that statement on Monday, saying “there will be no adverse action taken by the Attorney General” against clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Marriage equality similarly stalled before getting off the ground in Louisiana Friday because the state’s Clerks of Court association advised its members to hold off on issuing marriage licenses for a 25-day reconsideration period. Republican Attorney General Buddy Caldwell added in a statement that his office would not immediately enforce the ruling.
“[T]here is not yet a legal requirement for officials to issue marriage licenses or perform marriage for same-sex couples in Louisiana,” Caldwell said Friday. “The Attorney General’s Office will be watching for the Court to issue a mandate or order making today’s decision final and effective and will issue a statement when that occurs.”
Matt Patterson, research and policy coordinator at Equality Louisiana, told msnbc that most of the state’s clerks of court were “still in a holding pattern.” But now that some parishes have “broken the dam,” he said, others may start issuing licenses to same-sex couples as well.
Caldwell wasn’t the only state official to encourage resistance to Friday’s ruling. In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton also released a statement giving legal cover to county clerks who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.
“Numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs,” Paxton said Sunday, ”in many cases on a pro-bono basis.” He added, “I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.”
Same-sex couples were marrying all across the Lone Star state on Friday, according Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. And despite the assurances of Paxton, Smith told msnbc he was confident marriage equality would continue to go forward in the state.
“It might be possible for county clerks to make an accommodation for [religious] staff members, but federal law requires county clerks to issue licenses to same-sex couples,” Smith said. “Somebody in the office has to issue them a license if there’s a valid application.”
Of course, no story about resisting federal court rulings would be complete without a mention of Alabama’s state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who earlier this year put a stop to same-sex marriage in the Deep South state after the U.S. Supreme Court gave it the all-clear. It wasn’t the first time Moore defied the federal judiciary – in 2003, Moore was removed from his position as chief justice for refusing to take down a monument he had installed at the judicial building that displayed the Ten Commandments. The sculpture, a federal judge determined, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On Monday, Moore continued in that same tradition, this time with an order effectively prohibiting probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for 25 days. He later backtracked, however, saying: “What the order means is that within that 25-day period no (probate judge) has to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple.”
Yet whatever the order means, ACLU of Alabama’s executive director Susan Watson said it would have “little impact.” By her count, only one county – Tuscaloosa – was still refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday while continuing to grant marriage license applications for opposite-sex couples.
“If probate judges are going to issue marriage licenses to heterosexual couples, they must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” Watson told msnbc. She added that aside from Tuscaloosa and a few counties not accepting marriage license applications from any couple – gay or straight – “most probate judges in the state were now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”