Alabama’s controversial chief justice on Wednesday ordered counties to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, although it is unclear if large numbers of local officials will follow his directive.
In an administrative order Wednesday afternoon, Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has been a key antagonist of gay rights advocates, said a recent court ruling suggests it is not yet clear that the U. S. Supreme Court’s June decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationally applies in Alabama. Therefore, he wrote, “until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court,” state laws banning same-sex marriage “remain in full force and effect.”
But Moore’s order, which came directly from his office and not from the Alabama Supreme Court, appears to conflict with an order by a federal judge last year. In that May order, U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade ordered the state’s probate judges, whose job it is to issue marriage licenses, to issue them regardless of sexual orientation. She said explicitly that her order supersedes any order from the Alabama Supreme Court.
Moore’s directive “doesn’t hold water because there’s a valid federal court injunction clearly binding all of Alabama’s probate judges, and it overrides anything that the Alabama Supreme Court issues,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.
At least two counties in Alabama that were issuing marriage licenses to all comers on Wednesday morning appeared to change course as a result of Moore’s order. In a statement posted Wednesday on the Mobile County probate court’s website, Judge Don Davis cited the Moore directive and wrote that the court “is not issuing marriage licenses to any applicants until further notice.”
Gay rights groups pounced on Moore’s directive, calling it illegal and disruptive, but also characteristic of Moore, who is best known for being removed from office in 2003 for defying a federal judge’s order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the state Supreme Court building. “Even from a man who has made a career out of showing contempt for the Constitution, this sets a new standard,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a group that worked to legalize same-sex unions. “It is absolutely disgraceful, completely lawless and absurd.”
Moore’s efforts are part of a last stand among opponents of legal same-sex marriage, who have sought to block its implementation despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer finding that gay couples have a constitutional right to wed. He took a similar stand after same-sex marriage became legal in his state early last year, but most of the state’s counties decided to issue the marriage licenses to comply with Granade’s order.
At least nine counties across Alabama, however, stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether last year to avoid having to grant them to gay couples, according to gay rights advocates.
The debate over the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling isn’t limited to Alabama. In Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis drew attention after spending five days in jail over her objection to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.