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February 9th, 2015

Alabama Begins Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses Despite Chief Justice’s Defiance

This morning the Alabama became the 37th state legalizing same-sex marriage. Late January, a federal court ruled that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, but the enforcement of that ruling was stayed for two weeks to allow the state time to appeal. The state sought to have the U.S. Supreme Court extend the stay until it rules on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, which is expected by late June or early July, but the Court refused. This led to Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice to issue an order to the probate courts requiring them not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The Chief Justice’s argument was that the state is not bound by decisions from federal courts, and until the state Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court rules otherwise, Alabama’s definition of marriage would remain in force. Alan Blinder for the New York Times writes “[The Chief Justice’s] argument has deep resonance in a place where a governor, George Wallace, stood in a doorway of the University of Alabama in 1963 in an unsuccessful bid to block its federally ordered integration.”

The Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice had been in similar trouble before. In 2003 he was removed as Chief Justice for refusing an order from a federal court to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from a Montgomery judicial building. He was reelected in 2013.

Although reportedly county judges in Calhoun, Cleburne, Elmore, Lee, Mobile, Pike and Randolph counties sided with the Chief Justice and refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, licenses were issued in Montgomery, where the state’s capital is located, and in Jefferson, the state’s most populated county.