The Alabama Supreme Court late Tuesday ordered probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reports BuzzFeed's legal editor Chris Geidner. The order is in direct conflict with a federal judge's January rulings, which brought marriage equality to the state last month.
By Wednesday morning, the Human Rights Campaign was unable to confirm that any of the state's 67 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The Supreme Court's 150-page opinion, which HRC blasted as "bizarre [and] rambling," claims that "throughout the entirety of its history, Alabama has chosen the traditional definition of marriage."
"Alabama law allows for ‘marriage’ between only one man and one woman," the opinion reads. "Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty."
The state high court determined that because the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled directly on the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage, it was free to reach its own conclusion about Alabama's antigay constitutional amendment, approved by more than 81 percent of voters in 2006.
Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in, indirectly, on Alabama's marriage ban — when the court refused to extend a stay on U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade's January rulings, the high court signaled that it was prepared to let same-sex couples begin marrying in Alabama. Granade's rulings struck down Alabama's ban as a violation of the U.S. Constitution, and same-sex couples began marrying in February.
Nevertheless, Alabama's Supreme Court has ordered all probate judges — who are responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Alabama — to stop issuing such licenses to same-sex couples. The only probate judges not affected by the state Supreme Court's order are those specifically named in Granade's rulings earlier this year.
But even so, the state Supreme Court asked Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis to draft a response to Tuesday's order, instructing the court as to whether he is bound by the federal ruling that explicitly requires him to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Last month Davis refused to approve the second-parent adoption of the married lesbians who brought the lawsuit that resulted in the federal ruling striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
Tuesday's order was issued in response to an "emergency" request filed by two "conservative nonprofit organizations," the Alabama Policy Institute and the Alabama Citizens Action Program, according to BuzzFeed.
"The Alabama state Supreme Court does not have the authority to interfere with a federal court order," said HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow in a statement Wednesday. "This order is outrageous and baffling, and no amount of legalese can hide the bare animus that forms the foundation of this extralegal ruling."
Although Tuesday's ruling is unexpected, it is not entirely surprising as Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has become the face of opposition to marriage equality in the state. After Judge Granade's pro-equality rulings earlier this year, Moore told probate judges they were not required to abide by the federal ruling.