Some Counties Stall On Same-Sex Marriage Licenses After Ruling

Jun 29, 2015
Originally published on June 29, 2015 6:39 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Same-sex marriage may be legal according to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that doesn't mean that gay and lesbian couples are able to marry everywhere. Some counties, mainly in the conservative South, have yet to issue marriage licenses following Friday's ruling. And as we'll hear in a few minutes, evangelical pastors are also vowing a fight. NPR's Debbie Elliott begins our coverage.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Getting married was no simple affair for Earl Benjamin and Michael Robinson of New Orleans. Benjamin was camped at Louisiana's vital statistics office this morning.

EARL BENJAMIN: I just want to get my license. I just want to get my license as soon as possible.

ELLIOTT: But no license was available at home in Orleans Parish, so Benjamin dashed off to neighboring Jefferson Parish where word had spread that same-sex couples could get the documents to marry. He filled out the paperwork, crossing out the word bride and writing in groom two. Then it hit him.

BENJAMIN: The fact that I'm going to be able to validate not only the love that I have for Michael, but I'm able to do it in my own state of Louisiana.

ELLIOTT: Gay and lesbian couples are finding that patchwork of policies in several Southern states today. You can get married if you go to the right place. In Mississippi, some counties initially turned away same-sex couples, but most of the state's major cities are complying with the Supreme Court ruling. Rob Hill, state director for the Human Rights Campaign, says not being able to get a license in every county is a problem, given the change in federal law.

ROB HILL: It's disappointing, but - I hate to say this, but sometimes we're just not surprised. You know, Mississippi has a long history of delaying and even denying justice to citizens.

ELLIOTT: Hill, a former Methodist minister, says this is not about forcing a pastor or a private citizen to violate personal religious beliefs. But he says state and county officials should be held to a different standard.

HILL: I don't think there is attention there. I think that if you are a circuit clerk in Mississippi in a county and it's your job to issue marriage licenses, then you have to do your job and follow the law.

ELLIOTT: Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, disagrees. In an opinion Sunday, Paxton called the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling flawed and said the reach of the opinion stops at the door of the First Amendment. Paxton said local officials with religious objections cannot be forced to issue marriage licenses or perform ceremonies for same-sex couples. This is the new front for religious conservatives trying to preserve the institution of marriage as only between one man and one woman. Here's Louisiana governor and Republican presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal, on NBC's "Meet The Press."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

BOBBY JINDAL: I think it is wrong for the federal government to force Christian individuals, businesses, pastors, churches to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate our sincerely held religious beliefs. We have to stand up and fight for religious liberty.

ELLIOTT: In Alabama, the state's supreme court issued an order today telling probate judges to wait 25 days before granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Judges in the state's major cities had been complying with the U.S. Supreme Court, but in other parts of the state, judges had either stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether or were turning away gay and lesbian couples. Today at the Alabama judicial building in Montgomery, religious groups applauded that defiance. John Killian is the pastor of Maytown Baptist Church near Birmingham.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KILLIAN: Thank god that we have probate judges who will stand for that which is right to keep their counties out of the principle of marrying that which God says cannot be married.

ELLIOTT: But civil rights groups say there should be no confusion. Marriage is now a constitutional right that can't be denied to same-sex couples. And they've vowed to sue any local judge who doesn't comply. Debbie Elliott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.