Ala judges weighing whether to perform same-sex weddings

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Posted: Jan 31, 2015 10:39 AM
Ala judges weighing whether to perform same-sex weddings

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Fred Hamic is a marrying judge: He's performed about 1,000 weddings during seven years as Geneva County's probate judge and considers the ceremonies a highlight of his job.

"Weddings and adoptions. Those are my favorite," said Hamic.

But Hamic is a Christian, and he plans to quit performing the ceremonies if same-sex marriage begins in Alabama, as could happen because of a federal judge's ruling.

Madison County's probate office in Huntsville said last week it would quit performing marriages but cited personnel shortages, not gay marriage, as the reason. Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed said he'll marry anyone, straight or gay.

"I will do that for any couple that comes in," Reed said.

Other state judges are up in the air.

"I'll talk to my pastor, my family, and see what I would do," said Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin.

While Alabama law requires probate courts to issue marriage licenses, judges and other court officials have the option of whether to perform wedding ceremonies.

Many churches ban gay weddings, so same-sex courthouse ceremonies became a real possibility for the state's 68 probate judges when a federal judge in Mobile ruled Jan. 23 that the state's constitutional and statutory ban on gay marriages violates the U.S. Constitution.

The decision is on hold for now and the delay could be extended by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, as the state has requested. The U.S. Supreme Court has said it would decide whether same-sex marriage should be allowed nationwide, and a decision is likely by late June.

In the meantime, probate judges are trying to decide what to do should same-sex marriage become a reality.

Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris, president of the state probate judge's association, said he hasn't heard of any judge who would refuse a wedding license to a same-sex couple if the decision by U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade is upheld or the U.S. Supreme Court permits gay marriage.

But many probate judges — who are elected and sometimes also serve as county commission chairs — are on the fence about whether to perform same-sex ceremonies, said Norris.

"I think that is the way most people feel right now," he said. "It's something they'll have to decide."

Hamic, 69, said he would follow the law and issue licenses for same-sex weddings if required by court decisions, but he couldn't perform a same-sex ceremony because of his Christian beliefs.

So, partly to avoid potential legal problems, Hamic said would give up performing marriages to avoid having to wed a same-sex couple.

"I'm not going to be a party to it," Hamic said in an interview from his office near the Florida line in Geneva. "I was raised in a Christian home and I was taught that it is a sin."

Like Judge Martin in Calhoun County, Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King said he would have to make a decision about whether to perform a gay wedding. But, King said, the issue isn't too thorny since he rarely officiates at weddings, which usually are performed by ministers stationed at the courthouse in Birmingham.

"I'm in court virtually all day long, every day," said King.

While the state is appealing Granade's order, health officials and the probate judge's group already are considering how to alter Alabama marriage licenses in case same-sex marriages can begin, Norris said. The forms currently refer to "bride" and "groom" and will likely have to be reprinted, he said.

"I have no idea how it will be changed," he said. "There are ramifications with this we haven't even thought of."

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AP writer Kim Chandler in Montgomery contributed to this report