Same-sex couples began marrying in Alabama on Monday (9 February) despite an attempt by the conservative chief justice of the state's Supreme Court to block judges from issuing marriage licenses to gay men and women in open defiance of a January federal court ruling.

Action by the US Supreme Court on Monday helped clear the way for Alabama to become the 37th state to allow same-sex couples to marry. But gay rights advocates said numerous counties took steps to avoid granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The high court refused a request by Alabama's Republican attorney general to keep such marriages on hold until the justices decide whether laws banning them are constitutional.

In Birmingham, dozens of same-sex couples married at the courthouse and an adjacent park, where they were greeted by supporters supplying cupcakes along with a handful of protesters bearing crosses and Bibles.

Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore issued an order late on Sunday directing probate judges in his state not to provide marriage licenses to gay couples. Moore asserted that those judges were not bound by a federal ruling that last month struck down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriages.

Couples in at least 22 counties were denied or otherwise unable to get marriage licenses on Monday, with some counties refraining from issuing marriage licenses to any couples, gay or straight, the group said.

In April, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in cases concerning marriage restrictions in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. A ruling, due by the end of June, will determine whether state prohibitions on gay marriage violate the US Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law and whether the remaining 13 state bans can remain intact.