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After Delays, Same-Sex Couples Get Marriage Licenses In Mississippi And Louisiana

Although the Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage on Friday, officials in Mississippi and Louisiana made statements that left the next steps in doubt.

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AP / Rogelio V. Solis

Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn (right) reads an order on Friday by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood placing a hold on circuit clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, including Knol Aust and partner Duane Smith (left).

While many states were quick to accept Friday's Supreme Court ruling that struck down same-sex marriage bans nationwide, state officials in Mississippi and Louisiana issued statements that made it unclear when, exactly, marriages could begin.

But after those officials clarified their positions, clerks began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday.

In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood told clerks in an email Monday that his comments last week had been "misinterpreted" and that they could issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"If a clerk has issued or decides to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple, there will be no adverse action taken by the Attorney General against that circuit clerk on behalf of the State,” Hood wrote.

"On the other hand," he continued, "a clerk who refuses to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple could be sued by the denied couple and may face liability.”

In response, clerks in Mississippi began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Jackson Free Press reported.

Cyndi & Evelyn pose with their marriage license in Jackson, Mississippi. #msmarriage

In neighboring Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal had decried the ruling in a statement from his presidential campaign on Friday as an "all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree.” Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's office issued a statement on Friday that it “has found nothing in today’s decision that makes the Court’s order effective immediately."

But on Sunday, Jindal announced on NBC's "Meet the Press" that his state will abide by the Supreme Court's decision.

"We don't have a choice,” Jindal said. “Our agencies will comply with the court order."

By Monday afternoon, officials were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Jefferson, St. James, and St. Charles Parishes, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

Jefferson Parish issues 1st same-sex marriage license in Louisiana to clerk office employees: http://t.co/mHby5GC35w

Officials in both states had been less clear on Friday.

Shortly after the high court’s decision, three couples did obtain marriage licenses in Mississippi, the Los Angeles Times reported. But officials stopped issuing licenses after Hood issued a statement saying, “The Supreme Court’s decision is not immediately effective in Mississippi.”

Although Hood noted that the court made marriage equality the “law of the land,” he said the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals must take further action on an another marriage case that has been on hold.

“It will become effective in Mississippi, and circuit clerks will be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses, when the 5th Circuit lifts the stay of Judge Reeves’ order," Hood said. "This could come quickly or may take several days. The 5th Circuit might also choose not to lift the stay and instead issue an order, which could take considerably longer before it becomes effective.”

But Hood's email to clerks on Monday said his statements he made on Friday were “misinterpreted as prohibiting Circuit Clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. The statement was merely meant to explain that an order of the Fifth Circuit would be necessary to lift the stay.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality, which is representing plaintiffs in a suit challenging Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage, filed a motion Friday asking for the appeals court to lift the stay in light of the Supreme Court's ruling. On Monday afternoon, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the parties in that lawsuit to submit briefs by Wednesday for the next steps in the case.

Gov. Jindal's office had said that officials can decline to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples on religious grounds, NOLA.com reported.

Taking a similar path of resistance, Texas' Attorney General Ken Paxton announced on Sunday that officials with religious objections may be able to refuse licenses to same-sex couples. However, he noted, that could create legal risk if no one in a given office was willing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“[W]ere a clerk to issue traditional marriage licenses while refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses," Paxton wrote, "it is conceivable that an applicant for a same-sex marriage license may claim a violation of the constitution."

In Alabama, probate judges had been issuing marriage licenses. But the state supreme court caused confusion Monday by issuing an order that asks for input on the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.


Alabama Supreme Court Order Causes Confusion For Marriage Equality In The State

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Dominic Holden is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Dominic Holden at dominic.holden@buzzfeed.com.

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