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Two couples leading the legal fight for same-sex marriage in Alabama have experienced a roller coaster of emotions the last two days as orders from federal courts and a state judge clashed over allowing gays and lesbians to wed in the state.
Robert Povilat, 60, and his partner Milton Persinger, 47, and James Strawser, 51, and his partner, John Humphrey, 38, waited at Mobile County Probate Court all day Monday — the day same-sex marriage was supposed to debut in Alabama after the legal fight made it to the Supreme Court.
Strawser and Humphrey brought along their pastor to marry them, but the probate judge wouldn’t hand out licenses that day, nor did he on Tuesday. In fact, some two-thirds of Alabama’s probate judges refused to give licenses to gay marriage couples despite the federal ruling.
“You think you have a federal mandate that you can come get married,” Persinger told NBC News by telephone from probate court in Mobile. “You can only imagine the frustration. You just keep persevering, you have the hope and you say, ‘This is going to happen.’”
The couples got some good news on Tuesday when the federal judge who initially struck down the state’s gay marriage ban, U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade, said she would add Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis to the original lawsuit filed by the couples. Granade will then hold a hearing on Thursday to decide whether to order Davis to issue marriage licenses to gays – a decision that could impact the other probate judges in Alabama.
“I can honestly look in front of me and see that light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s a beautiful light,” Persinger said.
Still, the couples were upset with the actions of Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has authored several letters against federal courts deciding gay marriage. He issued an order late Sunday telling probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to gays, saying same-sex marriage was “invalid” in Alabama.
“We all feel that Roy Moore was overstepping his authority in assuming that he had greater power than the federal judges and the Supreme Court,” Povilat said.
There were other flashpoints in the state over gay marriage: In Autauga County outside of Montgomery, a woman was arrested after offering to perform a same-sex marriage inside a courthouse on Tuesday. The dispute between Probate Judge Alfred Booth and Anne Susan Diprizio happened after two women got a marriage license. Booth hasn't been allowing marriage ceremonies in his office since gay marriage became legal, local Sheriff Joe Sedinger told The Associated Press.
The couples leading the lawsuit said they weren’t surprised that some in the state were resistant to the change. But they were pleased by some heterosexual couples offering support at the Mobile probate court. No couples have been able to wed starting Monday since Davis stopped handing out licenses, and the heterosexual couples said they got a feeling of what the gay couples were going through, Povilat said.
“We have seen so much discrimination, and being told we can’t do this, we can’t do that, we can’t be married,” Strawser said. “I’ve been a Christian all my life. I’ve got a personal feeling with God that no matter what, he loves me for who I am, and other people have just got to learn to love us.”
The couples said getting married was about the practical matters – being able to step in on health issues for their spouse, buying a home together – but also about the recognition of their relationship.
“It will allow me a sense of knowing that my marriage is a real marriage that it is acknowledged and respected the same as any other marriage in the country,” Povilat said.
As they near what seems to be the last stage of their legal journey, the couples said their work won’t be done until gays and lesbians can wed.
“All four of us have gone through a very rough battle. We’ve gone on a long, hard road to be able to get where we’re at,” said Humphrey. “We’re going to stick it out to the end until everybody can get married to the person they love. That will be our end.”