Supreme Court Clears Way for Marriage Equality in Alabama as State Judges Defy Court Order

Photo Credit: Rob Crawley, flickr

The US Supreme Court has declined to issue a stay of a federal court ruling that Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, clearing the way for marriage equality in the state and possibly signaling their intent ahead of an expected June ruling that could legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Judge Ginny Granade, an appointee of President George W. Bush, struck down Alabama’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in a ruling last month.

“Careful review of the parties’ briefs and the substantial case law on the subject persuades the Court that the institution of marriage itself is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, and that the State must therefore convince the Court that its laws restricting the fundamental right to marry serve a compelling state interest,” Judge Granade wrote in her ruling.

Yet compliance has not been uniform across the state.

Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has instructed judges in his state to defy the federal court order. Moore was previously removed from the bench for defying a federal court order.

Same-sex marriages were issued in some of the most populated cities in the state, including Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery, but as the New York Times reports, a majority of Alabama’s counties defied the federal court order on Monday:

In at least 50 of Alabama’s 67 counties, the county Probate Courts, which issue the licenses, were not giving them to gay and lesbian couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. Many probate court judges declined to grant any marriage licenses.

In Mobile County, the state’s second-most-populous, the marriage license office was closed, and lawyers filed a motion asking a federal court to hold the probate judge, Don Davis, in contempt. Judge Granade rejected the contempt motion on Monday afternoon because Judge Davis was not a party to the litigation before her. The complaining lawyers, she said, “have offered no authority by which this court can hold Davis in contempt.”

In Florence, in the northwest corner of the state, Judge James Hall of Probate Court explained to Beth Ridley and Rose Roysden that he would not issue a license, saying, “I’m caught up in the middle of this.” The couple, their eyes brimming with tears, said they would drive to Birmingham, and marry there.

Alabama is the 37th state where same-sex marriage is now legal. The US Supreme Court is expected to rule in June whether state bans on same-sex marriage are permissible under the US Constitution.

Photo Credit: Rob Crawley, flickr

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