Jefferson Parish began issuing same-sex marriage licenses to anyone who applied for them on Monday, Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer said.
Gegenheimer’s office made the decision about 10 a.m. after speaking with his agency’s legal counsel, attorney John Litchfield. Litchfield spent the weekend reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on Friday to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide and said Jefferson Parish should begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples immediately.
By about 10:30 a.m., Gegenheimer said, Jefferson Parish issued what appeared to be Louisiana’s first same-sex marriage license to a pair of women whose names are Celeste Autin and Alesia LeBoeuf.
Autin and LeBoeuf, who have been together 38 years, got a jump on all other same-sex couples in Louisiana because they work for Gegenheimer in the Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court’s Office.
“It’s overwhelming,” said LeBoeuf, who met Autin at a powderpuff football game when they went to L.W. Higgins High School in Marrero. “I still can’t believe it.
“It’s not so much about being the first one to get the license as it is just getting a license and having the opportunity to marry the one you’ve always wanted to be with your whole life.”
Over the next couple of hours, Gegenheimer’s office received upwards of 40 phone calls about obtaining same-sex marriage licenses. Those calls came in from as far away as Iberville Parish.
But even with a marriage license in hand, couples like Autin and LeBoeuf may have to wait — perhaps for up to 25 days — before the state recognizes it.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals, which oversees vital records, will not record same-sex marriage licenses until it hears from one of two federal appellate courts that have cases affected by Friday’s ruling. That could come at any time until the end of a nearly month-long reconsideration period.
Other clerks of court in the state were apparently following a recommendation from their state association telling them to hold off on issuing licenses until the appellate courts weigh in. But on Monday afternoon the state clerks of court association told their members to begin issuing licenses immediately.
State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell also weighed in, telling clerks that they were under no obligation to issue licenses immediately. At the same time, Gov. Bobby Jindal has blasted the ruling.
Nonetheless, Gegenheimer said he would take his lead from Litchfield. Litchfield on Monday said the Supreme Court, though divided, had clearly told the nation that same-sex couples have the same right to marry that opposite couples do.
“The Supreme Court has clearly told us what the law is,” Litchfield said, adding that the ruling left no space for discretion to offices like Gegenheimer’s. “Mr. Gegenheimer has a desire and obligation to always follow the law.”
Litchfield said neither he nor Gegenheimer were fearful of any potential political backlash. Jefferson Parish is considered one of the most conservative areas in metro New Orleans — the parish was the electoral base for the Congressional campaigns of both Jindal and Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who are staunch same-sex marriage opponents.
“If and when there’s some contradictory action taken against him, he’ll address it then,” Litchfield said of Gegenheimer, an elected official. “If somebody seeks an injunction against him, we will deal with it then.”
Louisiana woke up Monday as the only state in the country that had not issued a single license to a same-sex couple, although Mississippi stopped its officials from granting marriages to gay couples after only three licenses were issued.
However, LeBoeuf and Autin — who said they’ve been inseparable since they met — changed the situation in Louisiana late Monday morning.
“We didn’t think we’d ever live to see this day,” LeBoeuf said. “We’ve lost friends that were waiting on this day and didn’t get to see it.”
Autin recounted how one of her friends was prohibited from identifying her partner’s body because she was not recognized as the next of kin. “We just watched that first-hand, and it was heartbreaking,” Autin said.
LeBoeuf said she and Autin were thankful they would no longer be denied the rights and benefits others have.
“If I’m in critical condition in the hospital, you don’t have to be told by a doctor that you’re not a family member,” LeBoeuf said.
Autin and LeBoeuf said they didn’t give much thought to the scrutiny they’d receive from being the first couple in the state to get a license, but they were gracefully weathering the cameras and prying questions from reporters.
Autin said LeBoeuf was best suited to field the attention.
“She’s just happy go lucky and I’m the one that worries about everything and gets things done,” Autin joked.
Nevertheless, in between the brief formality of getting the license and the rush of attention that followed, Autin and LeBoeuf managed to accomplish what they’ve wanted to do since the day they met.
“Y’all just don’t know,” LeBoeuf said. “We want to run out there and say, ‘We did it! We did it!’”
Earl Benjamin, who made headlines last week when he and Michael Robinson lined up in Orleans Parish on Friday after the Supreme Court ruling, came to the Clerk of Court’s office shortly after 11 a.m. to get a license the couple would use to get married later that day in New Orleans.
After getting his license, Benjamin took a moment to congratulate LeBoeuf and Autin, hugging the women as tears welled in his eyes.
Jefferson Parish issued same-sex marriage licenses to some 11 couples before the close of business on Monday, records show.
Staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.