By Ben Cunningham

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore late Sunday distributed a ruling intended to bar the state's probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday.

Couples, activists and officials across Alabama have been preparing for the state's first legal same-sex weddings Monday morning, as a federal judge's ruling overturning the state's bans on such unions is set to effect. Whether Moore's order will prevent probate judges in any or all of Alabama's 67 counties from issuing such licenses in the morning was unclear, but the chief justice's move seemed likely to increase confusion.

U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade on Jan. 23 ruled unconstitutional a state law and constitutional amendment blocking same-sex unions, and she ordered the state attorney general not to enforce those laws. Two days later, she stayed the effect of the ruling for two weeks to allow the AG's office time to appeal. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta last week declined to extend Granade's stay, and the U.S. Supreme Court took no action on the matter.

Many gay and lesbian couples have spent much of the last two weeks planning to apply for marriage licenses at probate judges' offices across the state. Groups in support of extending marriage rights and some opposed to it also have planned rallies and demonstrations for Monday morning.

In Calhoun County, a rally is planned for Monday morning in support of same-sex couples at the County Administration Building at 17th and Noble streets.

Sterling Fiering, co-president of the Anniston chapter of PFLAG, a national gay-rights advocacy group, said he expected the rally would go on as planned.

"The LGBT community and our allies, this is the first time that we've had a platform like this, especially here locally," Fiering said by phone Sunday night after learning about Moore's ruling in a text message. "It's important now more than ever to be visible and to be vocal."

Some attendees at an Anniston rally Saturday against marriage for gays had said they planned to visit probate offices to oppose the issuance of licenses to same-sex couples.

Other groups advocating for gays and lesbians in Alabama had announced plans for rallies in Birmingham and Mobile.

Moore's order argues that Granade's ruling has no binding effect on state courts. The chief justice's order also said Granade's ruling has no force for probate judges, and that "no Probate Judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama Probate Judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license" that violates the state's bans against same-sex marriage.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national group working to expand gay rights, issued a statement late Sunday urging probate judges to ignore Moore's order, saying the chief justice had overstepped his jurisdiction.

"All probate judges should issue licenses tomorrow morning, and Chief Justice Roy Moore ought to be sanctioned," the release quoted Sarah Warbelow, the campaign's legal director, as saying.

An email sent by the Administrative Office of Courts on Sunday to probate judges with the order, later forwarded to reporters, was time-stamped 8:17 p.m. Many probate offices are scheduled to open at 8 a.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court is to hear as soon as this spring a case on same-sex marriage that is expected to decide the issue nationwide. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

(c)2015 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)