Federal Judge: Gay couples across Alabama have right to marry

Gay marriage flag

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that gays and lesbians have the right to marry in all Alabama counties, but placed her decision on hold until the U.S Supreme Court weighs in on same-sex marriage this summer.

U.S District Judge Callie Granade, as she has before, ruled that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This time, though, she forbade all probate judges from enforcing it. Her decision to stay the order until the high court rules means that, at least for now, same-sex couples still cannot marry in Alabama.

That didn’t stop groups from cheering the ruling as a victory, however, in a state that spent much of the early part of this year at legal war over the issue.

“Judge Granade’s new order means that very soon, no probate judge in the state will be able to deny a marriage license to any qualified same-sex couple,” said Southern Poverty Law Center deputy legal director David Dinielli. “This is the right result for Alabama families and it is the one the United States Constitution commands.”

The ruling is the latest from the federal judge who has been at the center of gay marriage cases in the conservative Southern state. The order could be her final salvo at the state level before the Supreme Court decision.

Granade first ruled that Alabama’s gay marriage ban was illegal in January. As a result, gay couples were able to get married for three weeks until the Alabama Supreme Court in March ordered probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses. More than 500 same-sex couples married in Alabama during that time, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Groups fighting for marriage rights fired back at the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision with a class-action lawsuit brought by gay couples across the state. Granade’s decision Thursday was in response to that lawsuit.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, although he did not participate in the state Supreme Court order, has been a vocal opponent of Granade’s decisions, arguing that she did not have a right to dictate to the state probate judges. The probate judges are part of a parallel state court system, Moore argued.

Granade made no secret of which Alabama courtroom she believes has the final say.

“It is true that if this Court grants the preliminary injunction, the probate judges will be faced with complying with either Alabama’s marriage laws that prohibit same-sex marriage as they have been directed by the Alabama Supreme Court, or with complying with the United States Constitution as directed by this Court. However, the choice should be simple. Under the Supremacy Clause, the laws of the United States are the ‘supreme Law of the Land,'” she wrote.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said he was glad Granade “finally accepted our advice and issued a stay.” However, he said the state would have avoided months of “chaos and confusion” if she had done so when she first ruled in January.

“We’ve said from the beginning that the U.S. Supreme Court would have the final say in this matter,” Strange said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.