Confusion in Alabama after judges defy gay marriage ruling

WASHINGTON DC, USA – Gay couples faced legal wrangling Tuesday, February 10, in Alabama, where a number of judges are refusing to follow a US Supreme Court order to lift a ban on the unions.

The southern state on Monday, February 9, became the 37th US state where, along with the capital's District of Columbia, same-sex marriages are legal.

But in Alabama, most probate judges are refusing to comply with the US high court's ruling, deciding instead to follow a last-minute order by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore not to issue marriage licenses and officiate weddings.

"This is the first time that there has been so much resistance by state judges to a federal court decision that invalidated a state ban on same-sex marriage," said Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond.

Ahead of a nationwide ruling expected in late June, the Supreme Court authorized gays and lesbians to marry in all of Alabama's 67 counties, and same-sex couples quickly followed suit to exchange vows on Monday.

But in 52 of the counties, probate judges either refused to grant marriage certificates to any couple (in 40 counties) or refused to issue them to gay couples (in 12 of the counties), according to news website

In doing so, they were following Moore's order, made on the eve of the US Supreme Court ruling.

'Unprecedented conflicts'

In Mobile County, tensions are especially palpable, where the probate offices refused to issue licenses until the state's high court clarifies its order.

"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 statues of the State of Alabama," the county's Probate Judge Don Davis said in a statement. 

Christine Hernandez, a lawyer representing a lesbian couple in Mobile, protested.

"The United States Supreme Court is the highest authority in the land," she told 

"There isn't another court that (Davis) can go to to seek relief."

Ronald Krotoszynski of the University of Alabama School of Law noted that "times have changed" in the state considered part of the historically conservative Deep South.

"Despite the immediate tumult and the chief justice's efforts to block respect for the federal court's ruling, the end result, today, is that same-sex couples in Alabama are free to marry," he added.

Seven of the 9 US Supreme Court justices backed the ruling to lift the ban on Alabama gay marriages, despite the objections of state authorities who had sought a delay until the high court issues its nationwide order.

"In the absence of a stay, there will likely be more confusion in the coming months leading up to the Supreme Court's anticipated ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage," said Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who had filed the state's motion.

And critics fear the ruling on Alabama could pave the way for nationwide legalization.

Clarence Thomas, one of the two dissenting justices, noted that the high court's "acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the court's intended resolution of that question."

Krotoszynski agreed that the order "should be seen as a very promising sign indeed." –