Justice's gay marriage order halts licenses in parts of Alabama

Donna and Tina exchange rings during their marriage ceremony outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama February 9, 2015. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

By Colleen Jenkins

(Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in Alabama said probate judges should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite being told otherwise by the state's chief justice, but at least two counties on Thursday stopped giving out the licenses altogether.

U.S. Attorneys Joyce White Vance and Kenyen Brown said they had grave concerns about Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore's order because it advised the state's probate judges to disobey a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide last year.

"Government officials are free to disagree with the law, but not to disobey it," the prosecutors said in a statement. "This issue has been decided by the highest court in the land and Alabama must follow that law."

Moore said in an administrative order on Wednesday that Alabama judges were bound by the state Supreme Court's ruling last March halting same-sex marriage until that court determines the effect of the national ruling on the state.

Gay marriage supporters denounced Moore's order and predicted it would be ignored.

But at least a couple of county probate judges stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether as a way to comply with the conflicting court rulings.

Marriage licenses were halted for all couples, same-sex or otherwise, in Mobile County, according to that office's website. Elmore County took the same step, a staff member there said.

Madison County Probate Judge Tommy Ragland said his office in Huntsville stopped giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday but resumed handing them out a day later after the county attorney approved it.

"We have a chief justice who is confused," Ragland said.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Richard Chang)

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