OPINION: Louisiana joins the rest of the nation with today's same-sex marriage licensures

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The 900 block of Bourbon Street, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages in every state. Two days later, Louisiana issued its first same-sex marriage licenses.
  • The 900 block of Bourbon Street, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages in every state. Two days later, Louisiana issued its first same-sex marriage licenses.


Last Friday, June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that no state in the nation could deny the benefits (and responsibilities) of marriage to same-sex couples. So New Orleanians Michael Robinson and Earl Benjamin, who had been together 21 years, applied for a marriage license in Orleans Parish. They were denied, even as other opposite-sex couples got their licenses with no problem.

Several days after the Supreme Court decision, Louisiana was the only state in the union not to comply with the ruling. For that, you can thank Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

First Caldwell said the Supreme Court decision wasn’t clear as to when marriages could commence, adding he “found nothing in the decision that makes the court's order effective immediately.” The Louisiana Clerks of Court Association thus recommended a 25-day waiting period. Then Jindal claimed the state would comply — only “when the 5th Circuit Court orders the ruling into effect.” Possibly relying upon pendency of a ruling against same-sex marriages by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, Jindal suggested a Supreme Court decision wasn’t truly final until a federal appellate court said so.

It was only a month ago that Jindal was sniping at President Barack Obama, saying that Harvard Law School’s “most famous graduate has a problem obeying the law.” This week, we saw that one of the nation’s most ambitious politicians really has a problem obeying the law — and doesn’t mind giving Louisiana yet another a black eye in the process.

Fortunately, some local officials do understand the law. After consulting with an attorney, Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer announced his office would begin providing marriage licenses immediately. Other parishes large and small quickly followed: East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Ascension, Tangipahoa, St. Charles, St. James, Caddo, Livingston and Lafayette among them. St. Tammany expects to begin Wednesday, and by day's end the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association reversed itself and said license issuance should begin as soon as feasible. Those clerks of court clearly have a better grasp of the law than do our governor and state attorney general.

Jindal’s presidential campaign has been marked by what he imagines is toughness and what the rest of the world sees as pipsqueak pique. “You now have a court that’s not reading the Constitution, not reading the dictionary,” he said. Piling on the sarcasm, Jindal added, “If we want to save some money, let’s just get rid of the court.” (Imagine what Jindal would say if Hillary Clinton had suggested, however jokingly, that America do away with the Supreme Court because she didn’t agree with a decision.)

In all the fuss over what the Supreme Court said, it’s important to remember what the high court didn't say. No church and no faith-based officiant can be forced to marry any two people, just as it’s always been. That remains up to individual religious convictions. Polls show a majority of Americans agree with the court’s decision, but a significant number believe the court decision was wrong. It’s absolutely their right to think so, and to speak out if they choose — but disagreeing with a Supreme Court ruling doesn’t give anyone the right to ignore it or break the law.
Polls show a majority of Americans agree with the court’s decision, but a significant number believe the court decision was wrong. It’s absolutely their right to think so, and to speak out if they choose — but disagreeing with a Supreme Court ruling doesn’t give anyone the right to ignore it or break the law.

At 10:32 a.m. on June 29, 2015, a couple received a wedding license in Jefferson Parish. They had met in high school in Marrero and been together 38 years. The only thing remarkable about their story was the fact Celeste Autin and Alesia LeBoeuf both were women.

About two hours later, Robinson and Benjamin — having gone to Gretna to get their license — brought it back to Civil District Court in their home town of New Orleans, where Judge Paula A. Brown conducted the ceremony that made them the first same-sex couple to marry in Orleans Parish.

And there’s the irony. While residents of Orleans Parish can drive 10 minutes away, pick up a license and be married back in their home town, it looks like New Orleans may be among the last places in the state where same-sex couples can get a wedding license. In every other parish, marriage is the business of the clerk of court. In Orleans, it’s handled by the state Department of Health & Hospitals.

In a last-ditch effort to provide his bona fides to his imagined constituency, Jindal now is suggesting his recently signed “religious freedom order” will protect any clerk of court who doesn’t want to provide equal service to same-sex couples. That’s doubtful, but it’s certain to prolong the fight, even as couples across the state are getting their marriage licenses.

Jindal and Caldwell are on the wrong side of history. Though no civil rights struggle can be fairly compared to another, it’s worth remembering the legacy of the last Southern governors and attorneys general who tried to get around a Supreme Court ruling. 


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