Probate judge urges patience in marriage license question [updated]

Published 6:23 pm Friday, June 26, 2015

Probate Judge Ben Bowden’s decision to immediately close the marriage license division of the Covington County Probate Office Friday drew criticism from both same-sex couples and their supporters, as well as from traditional couples who were unable to purchase licenses locally as a result.

Shortly after the Supreme Court of the United States upheld same-sex marriage Friday, Bowden announced his decision. The court ruled 5-4 decision that states cannot ban same-sex marriage.

Late Friday afternoon, Bowden asked the public to be patient.

Ben Bowden

Ben Bowden

“I understand there is frustration with some about the decision to close the marriage license division,” Bowden said. “I need time to review the United States Supreme Court decision and determine exactly what the high court expects of us. That process was slowed a bit today by my duties in a previously scheduled circuit court case that has lasted all day.”

Bowden said he would to undertake that review immediately, and reminded the public that he is under conflicting orders.

“I think it is important to understand that all probate judges are still under an order from the Alabama Supreme Court requiring us to follow Alabama marriage law. I am hopeful action will be taken by that Court very soon.

“We are also waiting for guidance from the attorney selected to represent several probate judges in the federal court litigation. We expect to hear from him Monday morning,” he said. “So there are several complicated parts to this issue that I expect will be resolved shortly. “

“Finally, I want to remind everyone that from the beginning, my goal has always been and will continue to be to follow the law,” he said. “That was the oath I took and I intend to carry it out in the best way I know how.”

Meanwhile, an online petition called for Bowden to immediately begin issuing licenses or to resign; a rally was planned for Monday afternoon on the courthouse steps; and a mother whose son is set to get married in two weeks worried the marriage won’t be possible.

Andalusia resident Aggie Boartfield went to the probate offife Friday hoping to get a marriage license for her son, Randy, who is stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army.

Randy comes home for leave in the early morning hours of July 9, and is getting married on July 11, which leaves one day for the couple to obtain a marriage license.

Boartfield said she tried to get the license ahead of time thinking that they would give some leeway with Randy being in the military.

“There’s not,” she said. “He has to be physically present.”

Boartfield said Bowden’s office wasn’t willing to help with the license because of the law.

But a spokesperson for the probate office said Boartfield couldn’t have purchased a license for her son if they had been issuing licenses Friday – policy requires both parties to be present.

Boartfield said she’s concerned that Randy’s fiancé, Andrea Baker, also of Andalusia, may not be able to join him in Germany until the military recognizes the couple as being legally married.

“The military, even though they know Randy’s getting married, they can’t start the housing process until the marriage is legal,” Boartfield said.

Boartfield said moving costs or housing aren’t going to be taken care of until the marriage is legal.

“This could cause a domino effect,” she said. “I’m sure that we’ll figure something out, but the fact that we were put into this position by a man who just decides that his beliefs and thoughts are above the superior court really bothers me.”

Bowden said late Friday that he has often worked with couples in similar situations, even opening his office on Saturday and performing ceremonies when needed.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who filed an amicus brief in the case opposing same-sex marriage, issued a statement in which he said, ““While I do not agree with the opinion of the majority of the justices in their decision, I acknowledge that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling is now the law of the land. Short of the passage of a Constitutional Amendment protecting marriage as between one man and one woman, the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say.”

Even as Bowden and his Alabama peers on probate benches await action from the Alabama Supreme Court, legal watchers predicted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is laying the ground work to oppose the SCOTUS ruling.

Moore told CNN Friday that “”a religious battle that is just beginning.”

The Foundation for Moral Law, the private organization run by Moore’s wife and for which he serves as president emeritus — announced that ‘the battle for traditional marriage will continue despite the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.'”

According to the Foundation, the U.S. Supreme Court has “no legal authority to redefine marriage.”