The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Alabama governor says he won’t punish any probate judges amid marriage confusion

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley last week. (Mike Brantley/ via AP)

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said Monday that he would not punish probate judges in the state who do or do not issue marriage licenses amid a frantic, uncertain legal landscape for same-sex marriage in the state.

Conflicting orders from different judges and justices have caused a muddled situation in Alabama. A federal judge said same-sex marriages could begin Monday; the state’s chief justice said they couldn’t; and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they could.

The order from Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, contributed to much of the confusion. Moore told the state’s probate judges, county officials tasked with issuing marriage licenses, not to follow the federal judge’s ruling. He wrote that probate judges fall under his supervision, rather than that of the Alabama attorney general, which has caused uncertainty regarding what would happen to judges who do or do not issue licenses going forward.

“This issue has created confusion with conflicting direction for Probate Judges in Alabama,” Bentley said in a statement. “Probate Judges have a unique responsibility in our state, and I support them. I will not take any action against Probate Judges, which would only serve to further complicate this issue.”

Bentley went on to say that the issue of same-sex marriage would be “worked out through the proper legal channels.” His statement followed an earlier announcement from Luther Strange, the Alabama attorney general, who had said that his office could provide no guidance to probate judges during the confusion; instead, he advised them “to talk to their attorneys and associations.”

In addition, Bentley was critical of the federal judge and the U.S. Supreme Court for saying that same-sex marriages could begin in the state.

“I agree with the dissenting opinion from U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia when they stated, ‘Today’s decision represents yet another example of this Court’s cavalier attitude toward the States. Over the past few months, the Court has repeatedly denied stays of lower court judgments enjoining the enforcement of state laws on questionable constitutional grounds,'” Bentley said in his statement.


Alabama judge stakes out defiant stance against same-sex marriages

U.S. Supreme Court refuses to stop marriages

Who is Roy Moore? The judge at the center of Alabama’s muddled gay marriage situation