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Same-sex marriage: Alabama counties ordered to issue gay marriage licences

A small number of Alabama counties that are still refusing to grant gay marriages must abide by court decisions allowing same-sex unions, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Some clerks resigned rather than be forced to sign the licences

Jessica Dent, right, puts a ring on Carolee Taylor during their wedding ceremony after getting a marriage license at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Montgomery, Ala. But a small number of Alabama counties are still refusing to grant gay marriages. (Albert Cesare/The Montgomery Advertiser/Associated Press)

A small number of Alabama counties that are still refusing to grant gay marriages must abide by court decisions allowing same-sex unions, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling on Friday declared that marriage is a constitutional right equally held by all Americans, some authorities in Southern states including Arkansas and Mississippi refused to follow it. Some clerks resigned rather than be forced to sign the licenses of gays and lesbians.

Meanwhile, gay marriage advocates said they would ask courts to impose penalties on those who refuse to relent.

U.S. District Judge Callie Granade issued a brief order saying Alabama probate judges can't discriminate against gay couples. The order doesn't affect counties that have stopped issuing all marriage licences in response to the Supreme Court decision, but a gay rights attorney said other counties must treat people equally or face penalties.

'Hold them in contempt'

"We will ask Judge Granade to hold them in contempt if they'd don't," said Shannon Minter of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights in Washington.

Possible penalties include monetary fines, cost assessments and even jail time, but Minter said no decision has been made about which penalties to seek.

Minter said his group knew of at least six of Alabama's 67 counties that were issuing licences to straight couples but not gay couples.

Granade's order came at the request of groups representing gay couples across Alabama. The judge previously overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

A dwindling number of local officials in other states continue refusing same-sex marriages. In Louisiana, Red River Parish may be the last refusing the unions.

In an emailed statement, Red River Court Clerk Stuart Shaw said his Christian beliefs may keep him from issuing same-sex licences, and he was awaiting final word on a federal appeals court ruling. Shaw said his office will eventually comply, with workers who don't object to gay marriage handling the licences.

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