Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Ala. Supreme Court dismisses petitions opposing same-sex marriage

By Sandhya Somashekhar

March 4, 2016 at 5:18 PM

Amanda Keller holds a flag as she joins other gay marriage supporters in Linn Park at the Jefferson County courthouse on Feb. 9 in Birmingham, Ala. Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop the marriages from beginning in the conservative Southern state. (Hal Yeager/AP)

This post has been updated.

The Alabama Supreme Court, which has been a high-profile holdout opposing same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay unions nationally last year, on Friday dismissed a set of petitions filed by conservatives who want the state's ban on gay unions enforced.

The order dismisses all pending motions and petitions, in effect ending those groups' legal avenue to pursue their claims against same-sex marriage. However, in his 94-page concurring opinion, Alabama's firebrand chief justice, Roy Moore, said that previous state orders barring gay marriage remain and are valid under the federal constitution.

Groups differed about what the ruling truly meant, as well as what might be its practical effect in the Deep South state. Most of Alabama's 67 counties have already been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of Moore, who earlier this year had reiterated his view that same-sex marriage was not legal in Alabama.

One thing is certain: The ruling gave Moore, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality and gay unions, another opportunity to lay out his positions on those matters in colorful detail.

Quoting the 1974 song "Feelings" by Albert Morris, and comparing the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage to a Greek tragedy, Moore accused the high court of relying too heavily on emotional arguments in ruling last year that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

"Based upon arguments of 'love,' 'commitment' and 'equal dignity' for same-sex couples, five lawyers … have declared a new social policy for the entire country," Moore wrote, referring to the 5-4 split. He called the decision "lawless" and condemned gay relationships as "unnatural."

Groups opposed to same-sex marriage greeted Friday's ruling as a victory. Mat Staver, chairman of the Liberty Counsel, which provided legal representation to some of those challenging legal same-sex marriage, said it was significant that the court left untouched a March 2015 order that county officials are prohibited from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"We're viewing it as a victory," Staver said, calling the ruling a "stamp of approval" on that March order.

But Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said it appeared that in dismissing the petitions the justices were finally giving in to the reality that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay unions applied in Alabama as well.

"In the end, they realize, whether they like it or not, the national U.S. Supreme Court decision holds and that's the law of the land," she said.


Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.

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