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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday cleared the way for same-sex marriages to begin Monday in Alabama, but the state's attorney general made a last-ditch attempt to keep the weddings on hold.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday refused to delay a district judge's decision that overturned Alabama's gay marriage bans. That would appear to pave the way for Alabama to become the 37th state where gays can legally wed.
"Finally, we've got to the point that all Alabama citizens are going to be treated equally," said Christine Hernandez, a lawyer for the Mobile couple that challenged the Alabama laws.
However, Attorney General Luther Strange asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the weddings until the justices settle the issue nationwide when they take up gay marriage later this year. The attorney general predicted there will be "unnecessary confusion" next week among local officials who issue marriage licenses absent a stay.
"The confusion that has been created by the District Court's ruling could linger for months until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves this issue once and for all," Strange said.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in April and is expected to issue a ruling by June regarding whether gay couples nationwide have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions.
Same-sex weddings in Alabama will begin when a judge's order expires Monday unless the Supreme Court intervenes.
"The time has come for loving and committed couples from Florence and Huntsville to the Gulf Coast to be able to marry in the state they call home," said Human Rights Campaign Alabama State Director Ashley Jackson.
U.S. District Judge Callie Granade on Jan. 23 ruled Alabama's ban was unconstitutional but put a hold on her order until Monday to give the state time to appeal. She refused to lift that order Tuesday — which would effectively allow gay marriages to begin immediately — so that probate courts had time to prepare.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said he was doubtful Alabama could win a reprieve from the Supreme Court. He said the Supreme Court rebuffed a similar request from the Florida attorney general.
Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand filed the lawsuit challenging the ban that prevented Alabama from recognizing their California marriage and Searcy as a parent to their son, to whom McKeand gave birth in 2005 with the help of a sperm donor. A local court had rejected Searcy's requests to adopt the boy because the two women were not spouses under Alabama law.
Granade's ruling was the latest in a string of victories for marriage rights advocates in socially conservative states. Judges have struck down bans in the Carolinas, Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hear arguments this spring from three more states — South Dakota, Arkansas and Missouri — defending gay marriage bans.
Staunch defenders of the ban in Alabama include Chief Justice Roy Moore, who said last week that state courts are not bound by Granade's order. The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a judicial ethics complaint against Moore over his remarks.
Strange noted Moore's comments in his filing to the Supreme Court.
David Kennedy, a lawyer for Searcy and McKeand, said there should be no problems as long as probate judges follow the law. He said other states, including neighboring Florida, accomplished the transition to allowing same-sex marriages.
"If Florida can do it, I know that Alabama can," Kennedy said.