BREAKING: Same-sex licenses to be issued in Lafourche, Terrebonne

Clerks of court in Terrebonne and Lafourche were making preparations Monday afternoon to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in accordance with last week’s Supreme Court ruling requiring states to do so.

Louisiana was the last state to actively bar same-sex couples from marriage licenses following Friday’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision. The Louisiana Clerk of Courts Association had instructed its members on Friday to wait 25 days, the deadline for petitions for re-hearing before the Supreme Court.

But the wall that kept coupes from marrying began to crumble parish by parish Monday, first in Jefferson, then East Baton Rouge, followed by St. Charles and St. James parishes, as clerks began to independently okay the issuing of licenses in their respective jurisdictions.

“I would have been fine with issuing licenses Friday if we were told by the Clerk’s Association that it was okay to do so on Friday,” said Robichaux. “It is the law so we will have to uphold the law.”

Lafourche Parish Clerk of Court Vernon Rodrigue said his office was ready to issue licenses Monday afternoon.

“I’m okay with it,” Rodrigue said. “We were going to wait till the state said it was okay but then one clerk went ahead and I guess kind of made the decision for the rest of us.”

Rodrigue and Robichaux said they are prepared to alter forms so that they are not gender specific as to brides and grooms, as had been the case until now.

Debbie Hudnell, director of the clerks’ association, confirmed that she has advised members to proceed with plans to issue licenses, despite the organization’s earlier advice.

“The Association became aware that several parish clerks of court had issued or will begin issuing marriage licenses today,’ she said. “While the Association believes that implementation of changes relative to marriage licenses should have been done by the parish clerks simultaneously with the Office of Vital Records, differing implementation times has and will continue to create confusion.”

In St. Charles Parish Clerk of Court Lance Marino issued a statement saying he had issued a license to a same-sex couple.

“It was my decision, in accordance with the recent ruling of the United States Supreme Court, to issue the license and therefore avoid any potential litigation against this office,” Marino said.

A letter to the clerk’s association from Forum for Equality, a Louisiana gay rights group that has been integral to the fight for same-sex marriage in the state, says that litigation against clerks who deny licenses is possible.

Louisiana was not a litigant in the Obergefell case, but had issued a “friend of the court” brief supporting the right of states to ban same-sex marriages. A New Orleans federal judge upheld Louisiana’s same-sex marriage ban last year, and the petitioners appealed. Cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas were consolidated and heard by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court in January.

As of Monday a decision on that case – which legal experts say would likely yield to the Supreme Court’s judgment – had not been issued. Among the litigants were Courtney and Nadine Blanchard, who are from Raceland, and Jon and Derek Penton-Robiceuax, who live in New Orleans. Jon Penton-Robicheaux is originally from Terrebonne Parish.

Those couples are already married, but sought to have their marriages recognized in Louisiana. A New Orleans couple, Robert Welles and Garth Beauregard, were heard in the same appeal. They had been barred from getting a marriage license in Orleans Parish.

The Fifth Circuit has not yet issued a ruling as of 2 p.m. Monday, but legal experts expect that it will not buck the opinion of the highest court in the land.

Orleans, the only parish where marriage licenses are directly controlled by the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals, part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive branch, has so far not begun to issue licenses.

Jindal is a staunch opponent of gay marriage and was highly critical of the Supreme Court after the ruling was issued.

More details in the print version of The Times