Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell on Friday indicated that he will not instruct parish clerks of court to immediately issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Many clerks this morning had said they were waiting for word from Caldwell before issuing licenses.
In a statement, Caldwell’s office wrote that “it has found nothing in today’s decision that makes the Court’s order effective immediately.”
“The Attorney General’s Office will be watching for the Court to issue a mandate or order making today’s decision final and effective and will issue a statement when that occurs,” the statement noted.
In the statement, Caldwell expressed disappointment in the high court’s ruling.
“This Supreme Court decision overturns the will of the people of Louisiana, and it takes away a right that should have been left to the states. Louisiana voters decided overwhelmingly to place in our constitution an amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman,” he said. “I fought to uphold Louisiana’s definition of traditional marriage, and I was the first attorney general in the nation to be successful at the federal court level.”
At the same time, the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association has advised clerk offices that there is a 25-day waiting period during which the U.S. Supreme Court can be asked to rehear a case, advising not to issue licenses during that period. Many clerks across Louisiana are reporting that they are following that guidance.
That means in many parishes — if not all — licenses for gay couples won’t be immediately available.
Baton Rouge residents Tom Merrill, 54 and his partner of 22 years, Patrick Cain, 52, said they were getting their paperwork together Friday morning to get married at the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court but stopped after placing a call to that office.
“I said, ‘are you issuing (marriage licenses) or not?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know yet,’” said Cain, referring to his conversation with a clerk’s representative. “And I said, ‘If we come down to the window…’ And his only words were, ‘Congratulations.’”
The couple later heard news the clerk wasn’t issuing licenses and decided not to drive there after all.
After the Supreme Court ruling came down, the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court’s office received a slew of phone calls from people like Merrill and Cain asking if they could receive marriage licenses.
Fred Sliman, spokesman for the Baton Rouge clerk’s office, said as far as he knew the entire state will wait to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on the advice of legal counsel.
Sliman said the Clerk’s office will wait until the 25 days pass during which the Supreme Court can be petitioned for a rehearing. He said they want to wait to issue the licenses in case they would come under a legal challenge.
“We’ll be ready to do it, we just want to do it right,” Sliman said.
Calls slowed as the morning continued, and no gay and lesbian couples showed up at the Clerk of Court’s office asking for a marriage license on Friday morning. Instead, the Clerk’s office bustled with its usual workers, a man and a woman who filled out their marriage license, and members of the media.
A lawyer for one of the groups that has been helping gay couples fight state bans on marriage said there will eventually be licenses issued, but the question is whether clerks start doing it on their own or have to be forced.
“There’s two questions here: whether they’re going to voluntarily start (issuing licenses), or whether they’re going to have to be forced to do it,” said Kenneth Upton Jr., senior counsel with Lambda Legal, the organization representing couples in the challenge to Louisiana’s gay marriage ban.
“There’s certainly some validity” to the idea clerks would wait 25 days to see if the Supreme Court grants any requests for a rehearing of the case, he said. But Upton believes it’s extremely unlikely the high court would change its mind now.
“Everybody’s pretty well staked out their positions and they’re pretty strongly worded in all of the opinions that were issued today,” he said.
“(Clerks) can insist that someone’s going to have to force them if they’re gonna do it. Now, that said, somebody could force them to do it. If a couple is turned down , and wants to go into federal court today, and try to get a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against the clerk to issue the license, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the judges, if not all of the federal judges would do it, because the Supreme Court’s decision is right there.”
Upton said a Louisiana couple could decide to take this measure, particularly if one member of the pair is in ailing health and needs marriage license — and thus an official death certificate reflecting the union — as soon as possible.
Wade Shows, who is Welborn’s attorney, said he advised the clerk to wait to issue marriage licenses as a practical matter.
“Even though it’s the highest court in the land...there is a period of time after they render the decision in which the parties either side can ask for a reconsideration or a rehearing,” Shows said.
He acknowledged that the likelihood of a rehearing is slim to none, but said there could be questions about the validity of a same sex marriage that takes place before the 25-day reconsideration waiting period finishes. He said any question that a marriage license was issued too soon or that the marriage was invalid could later become a legal roadblock for annulments.
“We have issues of spousal support, we have issues of community property,” Shows said.
Shows said if there is no rehearing after the waiting period has gone by, he will advise the Clerk of Court to start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples once the necessary documents are changed.
Edmond Kinler, the clerk in St. James Parish, said once given the go-ahead to issue licenses from the AG’s office, he will do it immediately. “We’ll do it! No problem,” he said.
Kinler said he wonders about the form now in use for getting a marriage license, which asks for the name of the “bride” and “groom” and wonders if the state will adopt different wording in the future. But the wording wouldn’t stop anything, of course.
At least one same sex couple filled out a marriage application at the New Orleans Vital Records Office, which is an office run by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s state Department of Health and Hospitals, early Friday after the Supreme Court’s announcement. A manager at the office initially told Michael Robinson and his partner, Earl, that their marriage license will likely be issued today after getting approval from their legal department and waiting for a “system update.”
But while the couple waited to get the finished license, a DHH spokeswoman said the agency would not move forward and issue the document.
“Right now the Louisiana Constitution still is applicable … the mandate is not in place yet,” Olivia Watkins, communications director of the Department of Health and Hospitals said.
Only in New Orleans is there an office that is not a clerk of court that can issue marriage licenses.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, clerks across south Louisiana said they are following the advice about the waiting period.
Livingston clerk Tommy Sullivan said his office would wait out that period.
West Feliciana clerk Felicia Ann Hendl said the same.
“Soon as that runs out, we will be following the letter of the law. That’s no problem,” she said. “We’re ready to issue them just as soon as we’re able.”
Hendl said no same sex couples had applied for a license as of Friday around 10 a.m.
None had approached the Livingston office either.
Louis Perrett, the Lafayette Parish clerk said Wednesday that he was waiting to hear both from Caldwell and the clerk of court association.
“I really think it will go smoothly,” Perrett said about when same-sex couples start to get married.
“We will have a rush at the beginning, and then it will taper off,” he said.
Except for one part of the marriage forms, where Bride and Groom is checked off, the forms will stay the same, Perrett said.
He said getting married in the Lafayette Parish Courthouse costs $34.50, of which $12 goes to the clerk’s office and the remainder goes to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
“We want to comply with the law,” Perrett said.
Perrett and Iberia Parish Clerk of Court Michael Thibodeaux said to contact Hudnall with the clerks association for further comment.
Staff writers Steve Hardy, Andrea Gallo, Rebekah Allen, Billy Gunn and Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this report.