Alabama responds to Supreme Court ruling by freezing marriage licenses

A couple displaying their marriage license reacts after receiving flowers as they leave Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama, in this file photo taken Feb. 9, 2015.Reuters

In what seemed to be an act of defiance, at least three counties in the state of Alabama have stopped issuing marriage licenses to anybody after the US Supreme Court decided to legalise same-sex unions throughout the country.

Judges from the Houston, Geneva and Pike counties in Wiregrass Region put on hold the issuance of all marriage licenses, citing a provision in the Alabama State Code.

Section 30-1-9 of the Alabama Code states that "marriage licenses may be issued by the judges of probate of the several counties."

The judges in these three counties believe that the word "may" in this provision gives them the option whether or not to issue marriage.

Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen admitted being "saddened" by the recent Supreme Court ruling, and maintained that there will be no changes to his policies on marriages.

"I have no plans to put Pike County back into the marriage business. The policy of my office regarding marriage is no different today than it was yesterday," he said.

Houston County Probate Judge Patrick Davenport, meanwhile, said he will withhold all marriage licenses until such time that he has fully understood the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages, and how it relates to the Alabama State Code.

"I will continue to do so until I've had an opportunity to read and evaluate the Supreme Court ruling. It's my intention, after evaluating and reading the ruling, that we will implement policies in the Houston County Probate Court that are consistent with law," Davenport said.

He nevertheless maintained that he has the authority not to issue marriage licenses.

"Currently Houston County is operating under 30-1-9, which authorises the discretionary non-issuance of marriage licenses, leaving that discretion to the probate judge to issue or not issue," the Houston County probate judge explained.

In Geneva County, Probate Judge Fred Hamic said he is still "waiting for guidance from the state" regarding the high court decision allowing gay marriages nationwide.

"It doesn't say a probate judge has to issue a marriage license. I'm waiting on that. I will not be doing anymore ceremonies. I'm going to stop as of today issuing marriage licenses," Hamic said.