Legal experts had warned that Alabama probate judges who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples could be held in contempt of court and face fines or jail time. Now, it seems the opposite is true.
A woman was arrested Tuesday at the Autauga County Probate Office and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct after attempting to marry a same-sex couple there. She had to pay a bond of $1,000.
The incident took place one day after a federal ruling went into effect that found Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Because the state’s top judicial officer, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, ordered probate judges to defy that ruling, a majority were refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday. A day later, the chaos only seems to be intensifying.
“I will say I was nothing but polite, and there was nothing disorderly about my conduct,” said 44-year-old Anne Susan Diprizio, the woman who was arrested Tuesday, to msnbc. “The only person who was behaving disorderly was [Autauga County Probate] Judge Booth, who was aggressive, rude, hateful, not gentlemanly, had no southern manners -- nothing you would expect from a good man.” Msnbc reached out to Booth for comment, but his office declined to speak on the matter.
After initially halting the issuance of marriage licenses this week, Autauga late Monday became the 14th county in Alabama to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses, according to Human Rights Campaign’s count. Diprizio, an ordained minister and mother of two, showed up Tuesday morning to make sure everything was going smoothly and to perform marriage ceremonies for any same-sex couple who wanted one.
But after telling Judge Booth that she would be marrying a young couple there, Diprizio said he exploded at her.
“I gave him the courtesy of letting him know that it was my intent to marry this couple because he is no longer doing that service, and that’s what set him off,” Diprizio said.
“He was livid,” 19-year-old Morgan Plunkett, who was at the probate office to marry her same-sex partner, told msnbc. “He started cussing her out, he was telling us that we needed to leave, and that he had already called the sheriff.”
Both women said about six police officers then promptly arrived at the probate office. Plunkett, her mother, and her fiancée, Courtney Cannon, decided to leave. But Diprizio held her ground.
“They were there to arrest me, so they did,” Diprizio said. “I didn’t know what they were charging me with because I did not commit any crime. It says here ‘disorderly conduct’ [on the form for bond,] which is not true. It’s just a way to intimidate.”
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday cleared Alabama to become the 37th state -- and second in the Deep South -- where gay and lesbian couples can legally wed. But hours before the justices declined to freeze a federal ruling that struck down Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban, Chief Justice Moore sent out a letter to probate judges ordering them to turn away same-sex couples who showed up seeking marriage licenses.
Many legal experts said that judges who refused to comply with federal orders in favor of marriage equality were violating their duties under the U.S. Constitution, and could be held in contempt of court. But others said that Moore’s interpretation of the law was actually correct.
“The order of the district court can only directly force behavior from someone who was a party to the case, and no probate judge was a party to that case,” said Howard Wasserman, a law professor at Florida International University, to msnbc. “The only one who’s ordered to do anything is the attorney general, and he has no role to play in the issuance of marriage licenses.”
In order to address that technicality, plaintiffs in Alabama’s marriage equality suit moved to amend their complaint on Tuesday to add Don Davis, the probate judge of Mobile County, as a defendant. Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses to all couples, gay and straight, because of his objection to same-sex marriage.
“Despite the Court’s Orders,” read the plaintiffs’ emergency motion, “proposed Defendant Davis has failed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, necessitating his addition as a Defendant in this case and the issuance of an order directing his compliance with the federal Constitution.”
U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade, the President George W. Bush appointee who struck down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage last month, has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on whether to order Davis to issue marriage licenses. But if Tuesday’s events serve as any indication, Alabama has a ways to go before the chaos over marriage equality dissipates.
“[Alabamians] are really set on the path that is should be the way it always has been,” said Plunkett. “It’s a man and a woman together, or it’s nothing at all.”