By James Queally, Ryan Parker and
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Probate courts in Alabama’s most populous cities stopped issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday, a day after the state’s Supreme Court ordered judges to halt allowing such unions.
In Birmingham and Montgomery – the state’s two most populous cities – probate courts are no longer issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in a move that defies a federal judge who struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional. A probate court in Mobile has halted issuing marriages licenses altogether.
Six of the court’s nine justices concurred and a seventh did so in part in the 148-page ruling, published Tuesday night. One jurist dissented, and the court’s most outspoken opponent of gay marriage, Chief Justice Roy Moore, recused himself, the Associated Press reported.
“As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for ‘marriage’ between only one man and one woman. Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law,” the opinion reads. “Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty.”
The state’s top court expressed displeasure that lower federal courts have beenactingwhiletheU.S.SupremeCourt’s decision on same-sex marriage is on the horizon.
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“It is unfortunate that the federal judiciary has refused to stay the order striking down Alabama’s marriage- protection laws until the Supreme Court of the United States can conclusively rule on the issue within the next few months,” the opinion states.
Alabama had asked the U.S. Supreme Court last month to suspend Granade’s ruling, but the high court refused.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has repeatedly ordered probate judges, who issue marriage licenses in the state, not to give licenses to same-sex couples. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court let Granade’s ruling stand, some probate judges refused to issue licenses. Granade held another hearing and ordered the judges to comply with her order.
Moore’s February decree that judges should not issue licenses caused a fracture throughout Alabama courthouses. About one-third of the state’s 67 counties began issuing licenses after the U.S. high court refused to block Granade’s order, but the other two-thirds followed Moore’s direction and refused.
The state Supreme Court’s ruling was met with frustration by gay rights advocates.
“The Alabama Supreme Court led by Roy Moore did not even ask for briefing on the constitutional questions it rushed to get wrong,” Evan Wolfson, founder and president of advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said on his Twitter account.
Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alabama, said her office was reviewing the decision and declined to comment further.
Meanwhile, Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, told Associated Press he was excited about the decision.
“We are concerned about the family and the danger that same-sex marriage will have,” Godfrey said.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the Alabama Supreme Court cited the confusion among thestate’sprobatejudgesasareasonnotto issue licenses. With some judges issuing licenses to same-sex couples and others refusing to do so, the state courts could see an “overnight revolution” as to how to enforce estate law, alimony decisions, custodial rights of children and other such issues.
The ruling was met with a furious reaction from Equality Alabama, one of the state’s largest gay rights groups.
“This move by the Alabama Supreme Court is nothing but an attempt at delaying the happiness that all families deserve _ a last-ditch effort to stand in the way of the love we’ve seen in these historic weeks,” the group’s board chairman, Ben Cooper, said in a statement. “As we get closer to the day the freedom to marry comes to all 50 states _ the Alabama Supreme Court is on the wrong side of history. Every day of denial is a day of harm for Alabama families.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of gay marriage bans by late June.