A federal judge ordered a hearing for Thursday to deal with the confusing world of matrimony in Alabama after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block gay marriage and the state’s top judge ordered probate judges to ignore the federal system’s actions.
U.S. District Judge Callie Granade set the hearing after same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses for a second day in Mobile County despite federal rulings Monday allowing such marriages. Probate Judge Don Davis, who was formally made a defendant in the case, had closed the marriage license operation, saying he needed more guidance from the courts after state Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered officials not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“In our view, the probate judge already should be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the groups seeking federal action to force probate judges to comply. “There have been multiple court proceedings in the last few weeks, and the steady trend of those decisions indicates that we are moving quickly toward full marriage equality in Alabama.”
Tuesday’s action was the latest step in Alabama, a state that polls show overwhelmingly opposes gay marriage. Until Monday, the state had banned such unions.
Last month, Granade ordered Alabama to stop enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage but put a hold on the decision until Monday to allow the state time to prepare.
The U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision Monday refused the state’s request for a permanent stay and said same-sex marriages could take place. However, on the eve of that ruling, Moore issued his order.
Some judges ignored Moore’s order and began issuing the licenses, but most followed Moore’s lead, throwing the state into confusion.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that backs gay marriage, 50 of Alabama’s 67 counties were refusing to issue marriage licenses Tuesday to same-sex couples, including here in Baldwin County, down from Monday when at least 53 counties took that position.
Among the judges who reversed their stand was Elmore County Probate Judge John E. Enslen, who took to Facebook to announce his decision. His reasoning, he said, had to with questions about personal liability, including lawsuits, despite his opposition to gay marriage.
In Mobile County, however, there was no change of heart, and four couples in Mobile whose original lawsuit led to Monday’s rulings went back to federal court, prompting Granade’s decision to include Davis in the lawsuit and to set the Thursday hearing.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to deal with the same-sex marriage issue this term after lower federal appeals courts split 4 to 1 in support of gay marriage. Its decision Monday was widely seen as a signal that the high court is likely to rule in favor of same-sex marriage across the nation.
According to Randall Marshall, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, which is involved in the lawsuit, counties are dealing with the conflicting rulings differently.
Some are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Hundreds of couples have married since Alabama became the 37th state where gay marriage is legal. Same-sex marriage is also legal in Washington, D.C.
Some counties, including Mobile, are not issuing marriage licenses to anyone.
Other counties are granting licenses only to heterosexual couples.
It is unclear how many counties fall into each category, Marshall said.
Teague reported from Alabama and Muskal from Los Angeles.