Judge: ‘Not worth cost’ to deny
“It’s not worth the cost to the county,” Probate Judge Doug Agerton said after his decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses in Escambia County.
Last week, Agerton – like many other Alabama probate judges – was waiting out the 25-day appeal process after the U.S. Supreme County ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide. It was a historic decision that invalidates gay marriage bans in more than a dozen states – including Alabama.
“At first, I said I was going to wait, but it was strongly suggested by the attorneys for the county commission association that we go ahead and issue the licenses to avoid litigation,” Agerton said. “And I agreed.”
Agerton said throughout Thursday, he, the county administrator and the county commission discussed how to handle the situation.
“Actually, I had made my decision at 8 a.m.,” he said. “The fact of it is, no one threatened suit because you’d have to have someone apply for a license, and that hasn’t happened here.”
However, a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) informed Agerton he could be held in contempt if he didn’t follow the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“I wasn’t going to take Escambia County out of the marriage licenses business like some probate judges,” Agerton said. “I didn’t feel like it was fair to the people of this county.
“Plus, if you look at it this way, Mobile County has already spent more than $200,000 in attorney’s fees fighting this, and today, they’re issuing same-sex licenses,” he said. “Why put our county in risk of litigation over trying to fight something the U.S. Supreme Court said going to happen?
“I didn’t want to put this county in debt,” he said. “And to make that decision would be a deliberate act. I knew I was going to hold out until I couldn’t any more. That day is today.
“I made the decision,” he said. “I’ll stick by it. I’ll do what the law says to do. That’s way it’s going to be. We’re not marrying anyone, just issuing the licenses.”
To obtain a marriage license in Escambia County, at least one party must be a resident. Cost is $40, and there is no waiting period.