NEW ORLEANS – Just after two men in New Orleans celebrated what apparently was the first same-sex wedding in the state, clerks of court across Louisiana got the go-ahead Monday to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Gay rights advocates said Louisiana was believed to have been the last state that hadn't issued any licenses to same-sex couples after Friday's historic Supreme Court decision ruling marriage a fundamental right that cannot be denied because of sexual orientation.
On Friday, the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association said clerks should wait 25 days after the decision, allowing time for the high court to consider a rehearing. Monday, it said that because several parish clerks of court had or would begin issuing the licenses, clerks should begin changes consistent with the Supreme Court opinion to avoid the confusion of multiple starting dates.
"So our attorney says you can issue the license as soon as your office is ready to do so," the email from Executive Director Debbie D. Hudnall said.
The threat of lawsuits may have hurried the decision, said John Hill of the Forum for Equality Louisiana, an LGBT rights group that helped arrange the wedding of Michael Robinson, 41, and Earl Benjamin, 39.
The forum sent the clerks association a letter late Sunday saying that clerks of court would open themselves up to lawsuits if they refused to grant something the Supreme Court had found to be a fundamental right.
"I think the association of court clerks read our letter and talked to our lawyers and decided we were right," Hill said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's executive counsel, Thomas Enright, said officials who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds don't have to officiate at such weddings or approve the licenses someone without religious objections can do it.
The Supreme Court ruling "does not permit states to bar same-sex couples from marriage, but the ruling in no way forces specific individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs, or to perform or facilitate same sex marriages," Thomas Enright wrote in a memo from Jindal's press office.
He said Jindal's executive order in May also protects the jobs of state workers in such cases.
Jefferson Parish may have been the first parish to issue the licenses Monday morning, parish Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer said in a telephone interview.
He said the office's attorney pored over the court's ruling and decided there was no valid reason to delay.
"History is being made," Gegenheimer said after being told that a couple was receiving a license.
It started a run: By midafternoon, about a dozen licenses had been issued and a dozen more applicants were in line, Gegenheimer said.
The first couple was Alesia "Lisa" LeBoeuf, 54, and Celeste Autin, 54, of the west bank town of Marrero. They're thinking about marrying next week, LeBoeuf said.
After they got their license, she said, they met Benjamin, who had hustled across the Mississippi River to get one for himself and Robinson.
They had waited for hours Friday in New Orleans to receive a license, only to eventually be told it would not happen that day.
About 40 friends and co-workers attended their lunch-hour wedding Monday before Orleans Parish Civil District Judge Paula Brown, applauding and cheering after she told them, "You are now lawfully wedded spouses."
Holli Vining, president of the clerks association and clerk of court in Webster Parish, said she had not heard of any parish granting same-sex marriage licenses before Jefferson.
Louisiana was one of numerous Southern states where same-sex marriages faced deep opposition. Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a 2004 amendment to the state constitution that banned same-sex marriages and prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.
Gay rights advocates have said polling shows a shift in voter attitudes since then.
Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show the last name of the Jefferson Parish clerk of court is Gegenheimer, not Geggenheimer.