Gay couples in Alabama won’t be able to get married, again, for now. Yesterday, in a 7-1 decision, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.
In January, U.S. District Judge Callie Granade ruled that Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. Three weeks ago, her self-imposed stay on the ruling ran its course, which meant that either the Supreme Court of the United States had to step in and hear an appeal from the state of Alabama, or same-sex marriages would begin in one of the most politically and socially conservative places in the country. SCOTUS refused to hear an appeal, so marriage equality became a reality in the deep south.
Or, well, that’s how it should have shaken down. Instead, on the eve of Judge Granade’s stay ending, Alamaba Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore — the conservative lightning rod who had a giant Ten Commandments statue erected outside his courthouse several years ago — forbade local probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
The day Grande’s stay ended, many of Alabama’s larger cities ignored Moore and began marrying gay couples, but 51 of Alabama’s 67 counties refused to do so. However, in recent weeks, nearly all counties in Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Then, last night, the Alabama Supreme Court issued their ruling.
In it, the court wrote:
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. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty.
At the very most, it seems that conservatives in Alabama have bought themselves a couple of months of defying Grande’s ruling. SCOTUS is set to hear arguments from the Sixth District later this spring, with a broad ruling about the legality of marriage equality at the national level expected to come down by the end of June.
In a recent interview with BuzzFeed, even President Obama expressed his confidence that SCOTIS is heading in that direction:
My sense is that the Supreme Court is about to make a shift, one that I welcome, which is to recognize that — having hit a critical mass of states that have recognized same-sex marriage — it doesn’t make sense for us to now have this patchwork system … It’s time to recognize that under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, same-sex couples should have the same rights as anybody else.
Since November, SCOTUS has refused to hear arguments from any states seeking stays after their same-sex marriage bans were overturned by district judges.
As for Alabama, University of Alabama Law School professor Ronald Krotoszynski, a constitutional law expert, told Reuters that yesterday’s Alabama Supreme Court ruling “will likely not affect those same-sex couples in Alabama who have already received marriage licenses.”
And a spokesperson for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said: “The only question is not whether marriage equality will return to Alabama, but how quickly.”
All eyes are now on the Supreme Court of the United States.