Bowden: No same-sex licenses here

Published 1:58 am Saturday, February 7, 2015

Probate Judge Ben Bowden announced Friday afternoon he will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He also announced a new marriage license policy in which he will only issue licenses to Covington County residents.

Ben Bowden

Ben Bowden

In January, U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. “Ginny” Granade struck down Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban, calling it unconstitutional. She later issued a stay to give attorneys two weeks to appeal their case to a higher court.

But the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals did not extend the stay, which expires this weekend. Across the state, probate judges offices are preparing to issue same-sex licenses.

But Bowden said that since that time, he has done his best to determine if, and to what extent, the ruling applied locally.

“After much research, discussion, and thought, my opinion remains that the ruling does not control my actions at this point,” Bowden said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “Therefore, I will not be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the federal court’s stay expires on Monday.”

Related story: Local policy changes; no more licenses for non-residents

Bowden said he has great respect for both Judge Granade and the federal judiciary.

“ I know what it is like to have to make hard decisions affecting lives in serious ways,” Bowden said. “I view her ruling as an experienced judge ruling in a way she believes the law requires her to do.

“In addition to Judge Granade’s ruling, I have also received very clear instructions from the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court that I should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. These conflicting opinions have left many of the probate judges around the state in a quandary as to what we should do. I have concluded that I have a duty to uphold Alabama law until a court with authority over me directs me otherwise.”

Opinion: Moore made decision tough to Bowden, other judges

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore denounced the ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and this week encouraged probate judges not to issue licenses. Moore told state media he beliees that federal district and appellate courts have “no binding authority over the Supreme Court of Alabama,” and said he believed probate judges should not issue same-sex marriage licenses to couples.

Bowden said the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear and rule on a very similar case from another state this summer.

“I look forward to getting a definitive answer as soon as possible,” he said. “

I also want to say to both sides of this highly charged issue that my personal feelings have nothing to do with my decision. I am not making this decision based on any moral or religious conviction. I am simply trying to follow the law as best as I can. And, as soon as a court with direct authority over me gives me clear direction, I will fully comply. It has never been nor will it be my intention to disobey a court order directed to me or my activities as probate judge.”

Bowden said he knows his decision will upset some.

“ I have been told that this decision will subject me to lawsuits and adverse actions against me,” he said. “All I can say is that I am earnestly trying to follow the law with the ability that God has given me. That is what I was elected to do and I am determined to do my duty as long as I am able. “