Alabama's chief justice takes another swing at stopping gay marriage

Roy Moore

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Wednesday said that state probate judges remain under a court order to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples even though a US. Supreme Court decision effectively legalized same-sex marriage more than six months ago.

The outspoken chief justice, who previously tried to block gay marriage from coming to the state, issued an administrative order saying the Alabama Supreme Court never lifted a March directive to probate judges to refuse licenses to gay couples.

"Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders ... that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect," Moore wrote.

But the chief justice stopped short of directly ordering judges to refuse the licenses. He wrote in his order that he was not "at liberty to provide any guidance to Alabama probate judges on the effect of (the Supreme Court ruling) on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court."

Nonetheless, at least three Alabama counties suspended all marriage license operations — not issuing licenses to anyone — as a result of his order.

The State Supreme Court issued its directive to refuse licenses to gay couples at the request of conservative probate judges after a federal judge ruled in January 2015 that the state's gay-marriage ban was illegal. Months later, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.

The state court had asked for briefs on how to proceed after the U.S. high court ruling but never issued any follow-up orders. Moore said he was issuing his latest administrative order Wednesday because there was "confusion" among probate judges on how to proceed.

Susan Watson, director of the ACLU of Alabama, said it was Moore who was creating confusion, but she also predicted that his order would have little effect.

Watson noted that the same federal judge who initially overturned Alabama's gay marriage ban also issued an injunction prohibiting probate judges from enforcing the ban.

Most judges in Alabama's 67 counties are issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, although at least three Alabama counties suspended all marriage license operations Wednesday in response to Moore's order. That is in addition to the judges in nine counties who had already shut down their operations following the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Alabama Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, the only openly gay member of the Alabama Legislature, said it is time for Moore to stop fighting the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"He'll be challenged and he'll lose and he'll cost the state a lot of money in the process," Todd said.

University of Alabama School of Law Professor Ronald Krotoszynski agreed.

"At best (the order) sows chaos and confusion; at worst, it forces couples to bring federal court litigation in order to exercise a clearly established federal constitutional right," he said.

Moore has become one of the state's most outspoken opponents of gay marriage and has won praise from some conservative groups for his position that states should continue to try to fight the U.S. Supreme Court over the issue.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.