Gay Couples Begin Marrying in Alabama as US Supreme Court Denies Stay

Jim Burroway

February 9th, 2015

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Marriages of same-sex couples are now underway in parts of Alabama this morning. is providing live updates from around the state. Late last night, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice issued an order prohibiting probate judges from issuing licenses to same-sex couples. You may remember Moore from a decade ago when he was removed as Alabama Chief Justice for refusing to comply with a federal court order requiring the removal of a monument to the Ten Commandments from the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building. State Supreme Court justices are elected to office, and Alabama voters returned Moore to the high court in 2013. Probate Court judges are also elected positions, and between Moore’s order and popular politics in a state which approved its marriage ban in 2006 by more than 80%, these judges are now in quite a bind. Bibb County Probate Judge Jerry Pow is one of those judges not issuing licenses this morning, telling, “I don’t know whether I want to defy the Chief justice of the state Supreme Court or a federal judge.” Moore’s stand at the courthouse door is drawing obvious comparisons to another Alabama politician who stood in a doorway to block a federal court order. From an editorial in the Birmingham News:

Almost 52 years ago Gov. George Wallace made his infamous stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama to block two black students from registering for classes.

It was really all for show. Wallace knew he had no authority to stop the students. The federal courts had ruled that the time had come to integrate UA and to back up that order President John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to make sure the law was enforced and the peace maintained.

Still Wallace continued. He got his moment. Cameras captured it for front pages across the nation. TV broadcast it around the world painting Alabama as an intolerant place.

It is still an image we fight. News is getting rather cheeky in its opinion section. One columnist asked whether Moore was “protesting too much.” Meanwhile, marriages are taking place this morning in the state capital of Montgomery and in Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city.

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Shortly after those marriages began, the U.S. Supreme Court finally announced that it was refusing to issue a stay on Alabama marriages. The decision was made by the full court after Justice Clarence Thomas referred the matter to the full court. Thomas has oversight over the Eleventh Circuit. Thomas wrote a three-page dissent (PDF: 58KB/3 pages) from the Court’s decision, with Scalia joining. Noting that the Court granted a stay over a year ago in Herbert v. Kitchen which overturned Utah’s marriage ban, Thomas wrote:

This application should have been treated no differently.That the Court more recently denied several stay applications in this context is of no moment. Those denials followed this Court’s decision in October not to review seven petitions seeking further review of lower court judgmentsinvalidating state marriage laws. Although I disagreed with the decisions to deny those applications, I acknowledge that there was at least an argument that the October decision justified an inference that the Court would be less likely to grant a writ of certiorari to consider subsequent petitions. That argument is no longer credible. The Court has now granted a writ of certiorari to review these important issues and will do so by the end of the Term. The Attorney General of Alabama is thus in an even better position than the applicant to whom we granted a stay in Herbert v. Kitchen.

…This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our Article III responsibilities. And, it is indecorous for this Court to pretend that it is.

Today’s decision represents yet another example of this Court’s increasingly cavalier attitude toward the States. Over the past few months, the Court has repeatedly denied stays of lower court judgments enjoining the enforcement of state laws on questionable constitutional grounds. It has similarly declined to grant certiorari to review such judgments without any regard for the people who approved those laws in popular referendums or elected the representatives who voted for them. In this case, the Court refuses even to grant a temporary stay when it will resolve the issue at hand in several months.


February 9th, 2015

Cool judge at the top!


February 9th, 2015

If there’s anything to that last paragraph at all, I wonder if it’s the (rest of the) justices’ response to state officials’ claims that courts, especially federal ones, have no right to make such decisions.

A little bit like how, in some past times, the court mostly issued unanimous opinions because it prioritized making itself seen as strong as more important than letting it be known what each justice really thought.

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