The latest in a series of shifting conditions that Gov. Bobby Jindal had said would be necessary before Louisiana would acknowledge and allow same-sex marriages was met Thursday morning, leaving state officials with no further excuse to drag their feet.
With that final hurdle — an order from a federal judge in New Orleans — cleared, state agencies quickly began adjusting to the new reality, implementing policies, changing paperwork and updating computer systems in a series of tweaks that officials first said would take weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court’s nationwide legalization of gay marriage but that now may be completed in a few days.
Meanwhile, Jindal, who had stalled the state’s recognition of gay unions for almost a week while railing against the ruling in the national media as he campaigns for president, suddenly was all but silent on the matter.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, who last year had dismissed a case brought by same-sex couples seeking equal rights in Louisiana, issued a matter-of-fact order Thursday striking down the state’s bans and telling state departments to treat gay marriages as they would any other.
He acted less than a day after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to him with instructions to issue that order in response to the Supreme Court’s decision last week.
Louisiana’s government has been among the last holdouts in the country refusing to grant gay couples the right to have their unions recognized, even though nearly every parish in the state had begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The state will now begin issuing such licenses at the Office of Vital Records in New Orleans, accommodating same-sex spouses who wish to change their names and allowing gay couples to file joint tax returns.
Feldman’s order actually was the second precondition the Jindal administration had set for allowing or recognizing same-sex marriages after the Supreme Court’s ruling. The administration initially had said it was waiting on a ruling from the 5th Circuit, only to kick the can a little farther down the road once that court acted.
Mike Reed, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office, responded to Feldman’s ruling by saying it would be up to state agencies to comply with the order, essentially shifting the responsibility away from the governor himself.
The last time the Governor’s Office communicated with departments about the issue was on Monday, when Jindal’s top legal aide issued a memo urging “interested parties” to cool their heels and saying individuals did not have to violate “sincerely held religious beliefs or to perform or facilitate same-sex marriages.”
Campaign staff for Jindal, who is stumping in Iowa for the Republican presidential nomination, did not issue any statements on Feldman’s ruling.
After that ruling became public, the state health agency immediately said it would start issuing same-sex marriage licenses at the state-run Office of Vital Records in New Orleans. The state agency had been one of the few holdouts among license-issuing entities. Nearly all parish clerks of court already had started issuing the certificates, although some were slow to come aboard.
State revenue officials issued a bulletin at midafternoon Thursday announcing that married same-sex couples could file tax returns using the “married filing jointly” status.
Also, the state Office of Motor Vehicles said it would begin processing name changes on driver’s licenses for same-sex couples beginning Monday. Only a day earlier, officials had said it would take a week or two to finish necessary computer programming changes.
Feldman’s order encompassed the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples as well as the addition of a second, same-sex parent to birth certificates and the state acceptance of joint income taxes for the couples.
“We will follow the order included in the decision,” Olivia Watkins, communications director for the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said.
DHH already has made necessary modifications to the printed marriage license application forms. The new form, which is being shared with clerks of court, has spaces for bride/spouse and groom/spouse instead of simply bride and groom.
Additional changes will be made to the electronic records system through which the state documents marriage licenses, birth certificates and death certificates, Watkins said. Marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by parish clerks of court also will be documented in the system.
Watkins said the birth certificate issue is “a little more complicated” because of the specific circumstances surrounding various births and adoptions. “We will work with families,” she said.
Department of Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield said his agency “will be coming out with some guidance in the next couple of weeks.” But he said one thing was clear: The current ban on same-sex couples filing joint tax returns must end.
By afternoon, a 2013 bulletin that said Louisiana policy was not to recognize same-sex marriages when determining tax filing status was no more.
That bulletin had followed an Internal Revenue Service ruling that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognized their marriages, would be treated as married for federal tax purposes.
2013 bulletin cited the Louisiana Constitution’s ban on same-sex marriages as the reason for the deviation.
Barfield said he’s had agency personnel researching what other policy changes may be needed. He said he doesn’t expect any major issues.
At Motor Vehicles, a spouse who chooses to change his or her name can get the name changed on a driver’s license in offices across Louisiana starting Monday.
“They just need to have their marriage license, have made their name change with Social Security and bring in the right money,” said State Police Maj. Doug Cain.