When it comes to marriage, Alabama is a state of confusion.
As of this afternoon, only 23 of the state’s 67 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reports the Human Rights Campaign, which is monitoring the situation. Sixteen counties are granting licenses only to straight couples, and 28 are not issuing any licenses.
U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade’s decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage went into effect Monday, but Roy Moore, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is trying to block marriages any way he can. Sunday night he ordered county probate judges, who are in charge of marriage licenses in Alabama, not to license same-sex marriages.
At least one of the judges refusing to issue licenses is getting taken to court. Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis closed his office Monday, citing conflicting orders from Granade and Moore as to whether to issue licenses to same-sex couples, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. Four couples who could not get licenses are asking Granade to order Davis to grant them; she has set a hearing on the matter for Thursday.
Moore, however, claims the state is not bound by Granade’s ruling. “The Constitution has not delegated to the federal government the power to redefine the institution of marriage,” Moore wrote in an op-ed published this week in the Advertiser. “The 10th Amendment states that all power not delegated to the United States is ‘reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.’ By redefining marriage, the federal courts — without any authority in the Constitution — upend the most hallowed institution in human history.” He also said in a Bloomberg News interview Tuesday (watch below) that he will never change his mind on same-sex marriage, although he allowed that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules for marriage equality, Alabama would be bound by it.
The ultraconservative jurist has defied federal court orders before; in 2003, he was removed as chief justice because he refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. Voters returned him to the position in 2012.
The Advertiser’s editorial board disagreed with Moore’s latest action, with an editorial today stating, “A federal court order supported by the U.S. Supreme Court trumps Moore’s personal opinion. Not only is Moore's stance wrong, it recalls a shameful history of Southern resistance to civil rights for African Americans in the name of states’ rights.” It went on to mention Gov. George Wallace’s 1963 efforts to stop black students from integrating the University of Alabama.
Many have compared Moore’s action to Wallace’s, to which the justice objected. “This is not about the right of people to be recognized with race or creed or color,” he told the Associated Press. “This is about same-sex marriage. It is not the same subject.” (In an online forum for white supremacist groups, however, a Ku Klux Klan leader from neighboring Mississippi praised him “for refusing to bow to the yoke of Federal tyranny” and resisting the “Imperialist, Communist Homosexual agenda!”)
Robert Bentley, the state’s current governor, also opposes marriage equality but has taken a more moderate stance than Moore. The issue should be “worked out through the proper legal channels,” he told the AP.
“I don’t want Alabama to be seen as it was 50 years ago when a federal law was defied,” he added. “I’m not going to do that. I’m trying to move this state forward.”
The state, by the way, has the lowest level of support for marriage equality of any in the union, at 32 percent, according to a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Despite all the chaos, hundreds of same-sex couples have wed in the state since Monday, primarily in its larger cities, such as Montgomery, Birmingham, and Huntsville, the AP reports.
Brandi Ashley and Susan Denham of Talladega traveled to Birmingham to get their license Monday after being denied one in their home county, reports AL.com, a website for several Alabama newspapers. After receiving the license, Denham said she felt “blessed, finally.” Ashley added, “It’s been a long time coming.”