By Jonathan Kaminsky
(Reuters) - Officials in 24 Alabama counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday, gay rights advocates said, a day after a U.S. judge ordered one local official to issue licenses to gay couples in accordance with an earlier ruling.
The shift means that a majority of Alabama counties are now granting licenses to same-sex couples. It also indicates that defiance to a federal ruling striking down the state's gay marriage ban is weakening, as fewer local judges follow a contravening order from the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court.
"These numbers represent a seismic shift in favor of equality and justice," said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, in a statement. "Resistance to happy, loving and committed gay couples getting married is quickly crumbling throughout the state."
Of Alabama's 67 counties, 47 are now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and another three will begin doing so next week, the Human Rights Campaign said, four days after a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade striking down the state's gay marriage ban went into effect.
Alabama is the 37th U.S. state where gay marriage has been legalized, and the first in the Deep South, where many voters are socially conservative.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Monday to grant a request from Alabama's Republican attorney general to keep the weddings on hold until it decides later this year whether laws banning gay matrimony violate the U.S. Constitution.
But Roy Moore, the conservative chief justice of Alabama's 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 Supreme Court's action.
On Thursday, Granade ordered Mobile County Probate Court Judge Don Davis to begin issuing marriage licenses, a directive with which his office quickly complied.
A small number of local judges may continue to hold out until they are sued and ordered to comply with Granade's earlier ruling, but most now recognize that resistance will be futile, said Ronald Krotoszynski, a constitutional law expert at the University of Alabama School of Law.
"It's pretty obvious that it's all over but the shouting," he said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Eric Beech)