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Same-sex marriage begins in parts of Alabama, thwarted in others

Reuters logo Reuters 2/9/2015 By Sherrel Wheeler Stewart
Tori Sisson holds out her and Shanté Wolfe's wedding rings inside their tent near the Montgomery County Courthouse Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, in Montgomery, Ala. © AP Photo/Brynn Anderson Tori Sisson holds out her and Shanté Wolfe's wedding rings inside their tent near the Montgomery County Courthouse Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, in Montgomery, Ala.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Feb 9 (Reuters) - Same-sex couples began marrying in parts of Alabama on Monday, making it the 37th state where gay marriage is legal, but judges in numerous counties avoided granting marriage licenses to gay couples in apparent defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation's highest court earlier in the day refused a request by Alabama's Republican attorney general to keep same-sex marriages on hold until the nine justices decide in the coming months whether laws banning them violate the U.S. Constitution.

But same-sex couples in 42 of the state's 67 counties encountered difficulties in getting marriage licenses, gay rights advocates said. Some counties refrained from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while other counties shut down their marriage license operations altogether, they added.

This followed an order by Roy Moore, the conservative chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, instructing probate judges to issue no marriage licenses to gay couples despite a federal court ruling in January throwing out the state's gay marriage ban, effective on Monday.

Moore's chief of staff said the directive still stood despite Monday's U.S. Supreme Court action.

In Birmingham, dozens of same-sex couples married at the courthouse and an adjacent park, where they were greeted by supporters supplying cupcakes along with a handful of protesters bearing crosses and Bibles.

Wiping away tears, Eli Borges Wright, 28, said he was overjoyed to be marrying the man with whom he has been in a relationship for the past seven years. "After all of these years, I can finally say this is my husband," he said.

The scene contrasted to that in other parts of the state, such as Tuscaloosa, where gay couples were refused marriage licenses, and Shelby County, outside of Birmingham, where the marriage license department was kept closed.

In Mobile, attorneys for same-sex couples filed a federal contempt motion against Probate Judge Don Davis over the county's marriage license division being shut.

'SOW CONFUSION'

Those events, and Moore's role in provoking them, drew criticism from gay-rights advocates.

"Justice Moore couched his order in a desire to create clarity, but its only effect has been to sow confusion," said Adam Talbot, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.

This was not Moore's first foray into controversy. In 2003, he was removed from office after defying a federal order to take down a Ten Commandments monument he had erected in the state's judicial building. He was returned to his post by voters in 2012.

U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, ruled in January that Alabama's prohibition on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional but put her decision on hold until Monday.

Two of the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, dissented from the court's decision not to further delay gay marriage in Alabama.

In a dissenting opinion, Thomas wrote that the high court's actions in allowing marriages to go ahead "may well be seen as a signal of the court's intended resolution of that question."

In April, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in cases concerning marriage restrictions in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. A ruling, due by the end of June, will determine whether state prohibitions on gay marriage violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law and whether the remaining 13 state bans can remain intact.

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