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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 07
Marriages begin in 23 of Alabama's 67 counties
Section One
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Marriages begin in 23 of Alabama's 67 counties

Same-sex plaintiffs sue all state officials to get compliance with federal court order

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Gay and Lesbian couples are marrying in at least 23 of Alabama's 67 counties after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to extend the stay on a federal judge's ruling that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

In some of the remaining 44 counties all marriages have come to a halt, as local officials have suspended issuing marriage licenses altogether pending further court action. About 45% of the state's population lives in counties where marriage equality is the rule.

Alabama Chief Judge Roy Moore ordered county probate judges - the officials charged with issuing marriage licenses - not to comply with federal court orders, but same-sex couples have sued all the state's public officials in an attempt to get federal courts to order them to perform Gay and Lesbian marriages.

U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade - who issued the original ruling striking Alabama's same-sex marriage ban - instructed Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis on February 12 that he must issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Granade ruled in favor of marriage equality on January 23. Two days later she stayed her ruling until February 9 to give the state time to file an appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to extend the stay - over the protests of Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia - and marriages began on February 9.

Then Moore got into the act.

'Effective immediately, no probate judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with Article 1, Section 36.03, of the Alabama Constitution or ยง 30-1-19, Ala. Code 1975,' he wrote in an order to state judges. Those sections contain the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

'Charges will be filed against probate judges who violated the chief justice's orders,' Moore threatened in a Facebook post the next day.

Davis announced February 9 that he was closing his Mobile County office and would issue no marriage licenses to anyone until a higher authority clarified the state of the law.

'I remain committed to properly applying the law in all judicial and ministerial action of the Probate Court,' Davis said in a press release. '[B]ut we are dealing with unprecedented conflicts of law between the federal and state courts and I must be certain that any action I take is fully compliant with the law, both the United States Constitution, as well as the Constitution and statutes of the State of Alabama.'

Davis asked the Alabama Supreme Court to clarify Moore's order on marriage licenses, but on February 11 the court declined to do so. They do not have the authority to address the question, the justices said.

Granade solved his dilemma February 12 by ordering him to comply with her ruling, although she did not directly contravene Moore's instructions to county judges.

'Judge Granade's ruling confirms that the U.S. Constitution requires Alabama probate judges to issue marriage licenses to all qualified couples, gay and straight,' ACLU Alabama Legal Director Randall Marshall said in a statement.

'We hope state and local officials will recognize that their first obligation is to comply with our federal Constitution and will move quickly to follow the court's ruling so that all couples in Alabama will be able to share in the dignity and protection that marriage provides.'

Many other probate judges did comply with the federal court ruling and issued licenses to Gay and Lesbian couples.

Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris, the president of the state probate judge's association, said he was now ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses after initially suspending all licenses.

'I'm hoping we can get some clarification on all this,' Norris added plaintively.

Meanwhile, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley told The Associated Press that he was staying out of the whole business.

'I don't want Alabama to be seen as it was 50 years ago when a federal law was defied. I'm not going to do that,' Bentley said.

'This is not exactly a 'profiles in courage' moment by Governor Bentley,' HRC Vice President of Communications Fred Sainz said in a statement. 'When Justice Roy Moore chose to ignore a federal ruling, at least he was willing to own up to it. In fact, Governor Bentley is now just as complicit in kicking up lawlessness and discrimination in his state as Moore. That's not leadership, it's political cowardice.'

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