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Alabama Marriage Equality on Two-Week Hold

Alabama Marriage Equality on Two-Week Hold

The federal judge who struck down Alabama's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage put her ruling on hold Sunday, giving state officials two weeks to appeal her decision to a higher court. 

When U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade issued her ruling on Friday, it was not accompanied by a stay, meaning same-sex couples in Alabama could have begun applying for marriage licenses when clerks offices opened Monday morning. 

But late Sunday evening, Granade granted an emergency request from Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, writing that although she does not believe the state will be successful in defending the antigay law, she recognizes the value of letting a higher court weigh in on the issue, reports the Washington Blade. As such, Granade put a stay on her ruling until February 9 — a hold which could be extended if the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decides such a stay is warranted.

"The court recognizes the value of allowing the Eleventh Circuit an opportunity to determine whether a stay is appropriate," Granade wrote in Sunday's order. "Accordingly, although no indefinite stay issues today, the court will allow the Attorney General time to present his arguments to the Eleventh Circuit so that the appeals court can decide whether to dissolve or continue the stay pending appeal (assuming there will be an appeal.) The preliminary injunction will be stayed for 14 days."

The Blade reports that during the two-week stay, Granade also intends to clarify whether her ruling — in a case known as Searcy v. Strange, filed by a lesbian couple married in California and seeking recognition of that marriage in Alabama so that one woman can legally adopt the son her wife gave birth to — applies to same-sex couples statewide or only the two women named in the suit. 

Confusion on the scope of Granade's ruling — which starkly rebuked Alabama's antigay law — escalated Saturday, when the Alabama Probate Judge Association announced that it could not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, claiming Granade's ruling applied only to the women who filed suit, Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand. The couple has been together for more than 14 years, and they were married in California in 2008 and have lived in Alabama since 2003. 

In order for Searcy to legally adopt her wife's 8-year-old son, the state must recognize the two women's California marriage. In her decision in favor of the plaintiffs, Granade struck down Alabama's 2006 Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which prohibited the state from recognizing as valid (or performing) any marriage that was not made up of one man and one woman.

The judges association, which is responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Alabama’s 67 counties, contends that Granade's ruling did not "open the door" for all same-sex couples to begin marrying, but rather only applies to the plaintiffs in the ruling. 

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