Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Alabama Courts Issue First Marriage Licenses To Same-Sex Couples

Shante Wolfe (left) and Tori Sisson camped outside the Montgomery County Courthouse on Sunday.
Brynn Anderson
Shante Wolfe (left) and Tori Sisson camped outside the Montgomery County Courthouse on Sunday.

Alabama has become the 37th state to recognize same-sex marriage, after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request that would have extended the state's ban Monday. But the state's chief justice says probate courts don't have to follow federal rulings on the issue.

Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET: Supreme Court Rejects State's Request

Expressing regret at the Supreme Court's decision, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says it will probably bring more confusion and will keep him "from enforcing Alabama's laws against same-sex marriage."

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports that confusion is already being seen.

"Some counties began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples this morning," she says, "but others are not."

Responding to the development, Gov. Robert Bentley says, "I agree with the dissenting opinion from U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia when they stated, 'Today's decision represents yet another example of this Court's cavalier attitude toward the States.' "

We've updated the post to reflect the news. For more updates, see member station WBHM in Birmingham.

Our original post continues:

Voters in Alabama endorsed a ban on same-sex marriage back in 2006, when more than 80 percent voted in favor of the measure.

Questions over what might happen today were rooted in a federal judge's decision more than two weeks ago that overturned the state's ban. Within days, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said the ruling "raised serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment."

The U.S. Supreme Court says it will rule on same-sex marriage later this year; this morning, it denied a request from Alabama's attorney general seeking to extend a stay on a federal judge's ruling against the ban.

On Monday, county courthouses in Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, defying Moore, who said late Sunday that probate courts shouldn't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The order from the controversial judge didn't stop same-sex couples and their supporters from planning celebrations for Monday. At least one couple — Tori Sisson and Shante Wolfe — told NPR's Debbie Elliott that they planned to pitch a tent outside the Montgomery County Courthouse on Sunday night so they would be first in line today. They received their marriage license today.

From Birmingham , Rachel Osier Lindley reports:

"The state's gay couples can apply for marriage licenses for the first time Monday. While there's no way to know exactly how many couples plan to get married, probate courts around Alabama are expecting crowds.

"Last week, the Alabama Department of Health issued new marriage license forms. The old forms said 'bride' and 'groom,' but these new forms read 'first listed spouse' and 'second listed spouse.'

"There are a few probate judges who say they won't be issuing anyone marriage licenses in protest. Several others say they'll issue licenses to gay couples, but to avoid officiating any same-sex weddings, they'll no longer preside over any marriage ceremonies."

Of the ban being overturned, Alabama's only openly gay state legislator, Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, tells WBHM, "It's joyous. I'm not sure I can really wrap my head around it at this moment in time. It happened so quickly for us — and we all assumed it would be the Supreme Court who'd make that decision, then Alabama would have to comply. We're overjoyed."

Todd says a large turnout and party is scheduled for Birmingham's courthouse.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.