(Reuters) - A federal judge in Alabama will hear arguments on Thursday on whether to force a local judge to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, a case with implications for dozens of counties in the state that have not granted the licenses in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The hearing, set to take place at 1 p.m. local time in Mobile, will pit gay rights advocates against Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, whose county is the most populous of more than 40 of 67 in the state that have refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Mobile County's marriage license operations have been shuttered since Monday, when a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade striking down the state's ban on gay marriage took effect.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a strong signal in favor of gay marriage, refused on Monday to grant a request to keep the weddings on hold until the high court decides later this year whether laws banning gay matrimony violate the U.S. Constitution.
But Roy Moore, the conservative chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, ordered state judges to defy Granade's ruling and uphold the state's gay marriage ban, an order his office said remained in effect despite the U.S. Supreme Court's action.
Most legal experts say Alabama's probate judges, who are elected officials in a state that passed a gay marriage ban in 2006 with 81 percent of the vote, will ultimately have little choice but to follow the federal court's ruling.
Any order issued by Granade, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, will apply specifically to Mobile County but could compel other local judges to begin issuing licenses, gay rights advocates said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Peter Cooney)