MIAMI – The chief justice of Alabama ruled Wednesday that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages is legal and told probate judges there they had a “ministerial duty” to stop issuing licenses to gay couples.
The ruling, in an administrative order from Alabama chief justice Roy Moore, came seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a historic 5-4 decision, held that states cannot prevent gay couples from marrying and that those that had refused to do so must now recognize such marriages.
Critics immediately dismissed Moore’s contention that the high-court ruling was limited in scope. They said there was no question that the Supreme Court ruling extended nationwide.
Moore, in a four-page decision, cited a state law under which “marriage is inherently a unique relationship between a man and a woman.”
He argued that a legal judgment “only binds the parties to the case before the court” and noted that the case considered by the Supreme Court, Obergefell v. Hodges, was brought on behalf of same-sex couples only from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
Moore said that the result, in Alabama, was “confusion and uncertainty” regarding “the effect of Obergefell on the ‘existing orders.'”
Since the Supreme Court ruling, he said, some Alabama judges had issued licenses to same-sex couples, some only to opposite-sex couples and some not at all.
The Supreme Court majority made clear in its June ruling, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that its intent was to extend marriage rights nationwide.
“No union is more profound than marriage,” the ruling said. Of gay couples, Kennedy wrote that “their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness” and that “they ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”
He added, “The Constitution grants them that right.”
On Wednesday, critics sharply dismissed Moore’s stance.
Scott McCoy, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the AL.com website that Moore’s order was a “dead letter,” saying probate judges risked contempt if they failed to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
And the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State called Moore’s order “a pathetic gesture that is doomed to fail.”
Judge Moore is an ultra-conservative Christian known for his acts of resistance to federal authority.
He was removed during an earlier stint as chief Alabama justice for refusing, in November 2003, to give in to a judicial order to remove a monument bearing the Ten Commandments from a spot before the state Supreme Court building.