After Marriage Ruling, Some Local Offices Refuse to Comply

From Ballotpedia Local Desk Staff

Before they can take a trip down the aisle, couples wishing to be married in the eyes of the law must apply for a marriage license—usually at a local government office. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriages nationwide, meant couples in the 15 states that had same-sex marriage bans in place or stayed by courts prior to the decision started to hear wedding bells. Local government offices in those states, however, have not given unanimous support to those unions.

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Some local offices in those states continue to refuse the issuance of licenses to same-sex couples. In some cases, procedural matters—such as printing forms that use alternative language to "husband" and "wife"—are being cited as a reason to delay processing same-sex license applications. In other cases, local government bodies are outright refusing to comply with the ruling, citing the need for further clarification from the courts and their state governments. A few counties have gone so far as to stop all marriage license processing regardless of sexual orientation.

As of July 1, 2015, Ballotpedia found 97.98 percent of the U.S. population lived in a county where same-sex marriage licenses are available; 2.02 percent lived in counties where licenses were not being issued, were being delayed or their status was unknown. Alabama had the highest state population without known access to same-sex licenses with over a fifth of its population in such counties; 12.98 percent of Alabamans lived in a county that was known to be refusing to issue licenses at that time.[1] 

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The degree to which state executives and lawmakers have supported the acts of resistance has varied. Most states' attorneys general where such resistance is occurring have stated they will not defend localities that face lawsuits over their refusal to license same-sex marriages, despite disagreeing with the court's finding.

For more information on how local government offices in the 15 states with bans prior to the decision are impacting its implementation, see the local government response by state section on this page.