MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's stand against gay marriage crumbled Friday as judges in most counties sided with federal courts rather than their own chief justice, a Republican who once called homosexuality an inherent evil.
Many counties in the Bible Belt state began issuing the licenses to same-sex couples after the latest strongly worded order from U.S. District Judge Callie Granade. She said Thursday that a judge could no longer deny marriage licenses to gays and lesbians, reiterating her ruling striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
"These numbers represent a seismic shift in favor of equality and justice. Resistance to happy, loving and committed same-sex couples getting married is quickly crumbling throughout the state," said Fred Sainz, a top spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, which has been lobbying to expand gay rights nationwide.
Granade's ruling enabling gays to get licenses went into effect Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. But even then, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said county judges were not bound by her decision.
"It's my duty to speak up when I see the jurisdiction of our courts being intruded by unlawful federal authority," Moore insisted in an interview with The Associated Press later Monday.
About 20 of Alabama's 67 counties allowed gays and lesbians to wed on Monday. By Friday that number had jumped to at least 47, the Human Rights Campaign said. Other counties said they would revisit the decision next week.
Granade's ruling made Alabama the 37th state where gays and lesbians can legally wed. It also continued her family legacy of bringing sweeping change to a place where many people didn't yet welcome it.
Her grandfather was Richard Rives, a federal appellate judge whose rulings helped desegregate the South despite resistance to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
"Judge Rives, my grandfather, really is my personal hero," Granade said during her 2001 Senate confirmation hearing. She denied then that "judicial activism" describes what her grandfather did — or what she might do.
"The issues on which he more or less broke with precedent were ones which really flew in the face of the Constitution," she said. "I think a judge will always be correct if the decisions that he or she makes are consistent with the plain language of the Constitution."
While many Republican politicians in Alabama criticized her ruling last month and tried to link her to Obama administration policies, Granade was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.
Granade could have stayed her decision pending a final U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Instead, she rejected Alabama's argument that keeping gays and lesbians from marrying benefits the state's children. And after Moore urged judges this week to ignore her ruling, she reiterated that they are bound by the U.S. Constitution to treat all couples equally.
Lee County's probate judge, Bill English, said Friday that Granade's order "makes it clear" he had to open his courthouse doors.
Moore's stand against federal authority surprised no one in Alabama, where the 68-year-old jurist who twice ran for governor burnished his conservative image a decade ago with a losing fight to keep his Ten Commandments statue inside the Alabama Judicial Building.
While Moore again appeared on the losing side Friday, a longtime supporter said the 81 percent of Alabama voters who chose to ban gay marriage in 2006 would appreciate his stand.
"I think this lady judge is scaring the daylights out of these people," Orange Beach businessman Dean Young said. "The people are very thankful that Judge Moore is standing up."