The controversial chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court ordered counties to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday, a move that could affect the United States Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriages. It’s unclear whether a large number officials in the state have followed his orders.
However, within hours of the administrative message, at least two counties decided not to issue licenses. The probate court in Mobile County said on its website that it was “not issuing marriage licenses to any applicants until further notice,” according to The New York Times.
Chief Justice Roy Moore said in an administrative order Wednesday that a recent court ruling suggests it is not clear that the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization decision actually applies to Alabama. As a result, he wrote, “until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court,” state laws that ban same-sex marriage “remain in full force and effect.”
Moore, who is one of the country’s most prominent religious conservatives, continued by saying that the licenses should not be issued because of a pending State Supreme Court case. And because that case contradicts the Supreme Court’s decision, Moore said that it has caused “confusion and uncertainty” among Alabama’s probate judges about how to apply the federal court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which prompted a constitutional right to obtain a same-sex marriage license.
“Many probate judges are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in accordance with Obergefell; others are issuing marriage licenses only to couples of the opposite gender or have ceased issuing all marriage licenses,” Moore wrote. “This disparity affects the administration of justice in this state.”
Of course, the chief justice’s decision immediately inspired criticism from same-sex marriage supporters. And some said they’d be monitoring Alabama’s probate offices.
“Roy Moore is obstructing same-sex couples’ access to marriage, which they are constitutionally guaranteed,” said the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah Warbelow. “This is just more of his shenanigans. It’s about him and his personal beliefs at this point, rather than carrying out the rule of law.”
Other gay rights groups jumped at the chance to boo Moore’s directive, calling it illegal, and said it was characteristic of Moore, who is well known for defying a federal judge’s order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the State Supreme Court building and being removed from office in 2003, The Washington Post reports.
“Even from a man who has made a career out of showing contempt for the Constitution, this sets a new standard,” said Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson. “It is absolutely disgraceful, completely lawless and absurd.”
Even legal experts jumped in the conversation after the chief justice announced his order, which one said was far from the Supreme Court’s opinion.
“Ordering the state’s probate judges to refuse to issue marriage licenses to all couples who seek them constitutes an exercise in futility,” wrote Ronald Krotoszynski, a law professor at the University of Alabama, in an email. “At best, it sows chaos and confusion; at worst, it forces couples to bring federal court litigation in order to exercise a clearly established federal constitutional right.”
Some think that his decision won’t make an impact because it just won’t hold up. Susan Watson, an executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said that Moore’s order “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.”
Moore’s recent efforts are unfortunately part of a last push against legal same-sex marriage. You might remember that many opponents tried to halt implementation of the new law last summer. And Moore did something similar after same-sex marriage was legalized last year, but most Alabama counties decided to issue the licenses in accordance with the Supreme Court decision.
What is more unfortunate is that this problem with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling isn’t just happening in Alabama. For instance, in Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis caused a stir after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and spent five days in prison.
The Supreme Court’s decision was bound to come with some backlash, but this seems outrageous. If it is a constitutional right for a couple to obtain a marriage license, the gender/genders of said couple shouldn’t matter. People may not agree with it, but it’s a law. Respect it. And if anyone should understand that, it should be a chief justice.