A Federal appeals court, unsurprisingly, ruled Wednesday that Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi must allow and recognize same-sex marriages in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Friday legalizing the practice nationwide.
But while Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration previously had said it was waiting on that 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling before recognizing same-sex marriages, top state officials dug in their heels Wednesday and said they wouldn’t change course until a district court orders them to do so.
That only widens the gap between the administration and the reality on the ground across the state. Clerks or other officials in nearly all parishes have now said they will issue licenses to same-sex couples, even as Jindal administration officials continue to tell state agencies to hold off on accepting them as valid.
The administration’s delay in accepting the Supreme Court’s ruling may be behind another point of conflict that cropped up on Wednesday as members of newly married same-sex couples seeking to change the name on their driver’s licenses to reflect their union found their efforts thwarted by the Office of Motor Vehicles.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit appeared to address the administration’s stalling.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is “the law of the land and, consequently, the law of this circuit and should not be taken lightly by actors within the jurisdiction of this court,” the ruling said.
“We express no view on how controversies involving the intersection of these rights should be resolved but instead leave that to the robust operation of our system of laws and the good faith of those who are impacted by them.”
The panel then ordered district judges who have overseen cases involving same-sex marriage, including U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans, to issue final judgments in their cases legalizing and recognizing same-sex marriage by July 17.
Normally that ruling, and any judgments that come from the lower courts, would be largely procedural measures now that the Supreme Court has decided the issue. And, indeed, that’s how they have been treated in most of the country, where clerks began issuing licenses immediately after Friday’s ruling.
But Jindal administration officials have said they won’t comply until forced to do so. While they initially pointed to the 5th Circuit’s decision as the event that would fully grant gay marriage rights in Louisiana, they changed course after the ruling was handed down and said they would continue to follow the state constitution’s ban on same-sex marriages until forced to do so by a lower court.
“Our agencies will follow the Louisiana Constitution until the (U.S.) district court orders us otherwise,” Jindal spokesman Mike Reed said.
Derek Penton-Robicheaux, one of the plaintiffs in the case seeking recognition for same-sex marriage in Louisiana, decried the delays and noted that a plaintiff in one of the cases is in declining health. The 5th Circuit judges noted that in their ruling, as well, urging Feldman to act as quickly as possible.
“The state is playing games with people’s lives,” Penton-Robicheaux said.
Another controversy, this one involving a typical part of becoming a married couple, cropped up on Wednesday as same-sex couples tried to change their names at the OMV.
At the same time, clerks in some parishes continue to refuse to issue licenses for same-sex unions.
State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said Wednesday that the problem with the driver’s licenses is technical. Computer coding that identifies male and female in the name-change programming doesn’t recognize entries for the same sex, he said.
Edmonson said computer programs at the OMV need to be changed. “It should take a week or two,” he said.
Some members of the LGBT community said they suspect local driver’s license officials are acting on an order not to fill the requests.
Equality Louisiana President Baylor Boyd accused the OMV of not complying with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. “This hurdle is an unnecessary delay for newly married couples,” he said.
“It seems odd to me that OMV couldn’t do it when clerks (of court) have been able to” adjust quickly to issue marriage licenses, said Matthew Patterson, research coordinator for Equality Louisiana.
Marriage licenses for same-sex couples were available in almost all of Louisiana’s 64 parishes by Wednesday, though some parishes also claimed computer problems. The Advocate confirmed that licenses were being issued in 62 parishes, with the lone exceptions being Lincoln and Red River parishes. Officials at the Lincoln Clerk’s Office did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment.
Red River Parish Clerk of Court Stuart Shaw said he will wait until Feldman, the federal judge in New Orleans, orders the Supreme Court ruling into effect.
“The Red River Parish Clerk of Court’s Office will comply with its duties under the law as required, issue licenses in accordance with the new law mandates, and show courtesy and respect to all persons at all times,” Shaw said in a written statement. “However, we will also endeavor to preserve the fundamental constitutional rights of any office employee who may have a sincerely held religious belief that prevents their involvement in the issuance of a same-sex marriage license by providing a reasonable accommodation for that liberty interest upon request.”
On the driver’s license issue, Edmonson said he has not told employees to refuse to accommodate the name changes. He said it’s simply a matter of making a computer change and making sure everyone understands the protocols that will be put in place.
“On the day the Supreme Court ruled, I instructed Motor Vehicles to go through the system to see if there was anything we needed to do,” he said. “We need to do a little training and change the automated program.”
Edmonson said OMV aims to protect the integrity of the driver’s license. “There’s a lot more tied to that driver’s license than people realize ... like bank accounts,” he said.
Some people showed up at OMV offices within the first hour after the Supreme Court ruling with no identification or required paperwork, Edmonson said.
He said same-sex couples will be required to provide a duly issued and signed marriage certificate — just like traditional couples.
“You have to bring proof you are married,” Edmonson said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson. Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @Marsha ShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.