Alabama’s uneven response to court rulings allowing same-sex marriages is the top state news story of 2015.
Gay marriage became a reality nationwide this year, but the issue took on special significance in Alabama as officials in a conservative Deep South state grappled with how to respond to court rulings allowing same-sex weddings.
Some counties complied with court decisions immediately and issued same-sex marriage licenses, prompting joyous ceremonies on courthouse lawns. Others delayed or quit issuing marriage licenses altogether, forcing both gay and straight couples to go elsewhere to get married. More court battles are possible.
Here is a look at Alabama’s Top 10 news stories of 2015 as selected by The Associated Press:
A federal judge in Mobile overrules Alabama’s ban on gay marriage and the U.S. Supreme Court then legalizes same-sex marriage nationally, decisions that spark both celebrations and opposition across the state. The fallout from the rulings is Alabama’s No. 1 news story of 2015, and the reverberation could continue into 2016 as gay marriage supporters consider whether to sue counties that quit issuing marriage licenses altogether rather than grant any to same-sex couples.
HARPER LEE NOVEL
Author Harper Lee of Monroeville releases her second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” in July, topping best-seller lists. Reviews are mixed for “Watchman,” which was written in 1957 and depicts fictional lawyer Atticus Finch as a racist rather than the noble lawyer of her classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A state elder abuse probe is closed after determining the 89-year-old Lee wanted to publish the book.
Two Special Sessions are required before the Republican-controlled Legislature agrees to $1.7 billion state operating budget that includes both spending cuts and tax increases to plug a $200 million gap.
Madison police Officer Eric Parker is arrested on state and federal charges after his videotaped takedown of Indian national Sureshbhai Patel, a grandfather, in a suburban neighborhood. Two federal trials end in hung juries, but prosecutors say they want a third trial.
First lady Dianne Bentley unexpectedly files for divorce from Gov. Robert Bentley citing an “irretrievable breakdown” of their marriage of 50 years. The case, filed in Tuscaloosa the same day the couple made a joint appearance, is sealed and then settled within weeks.
With executions still on hold because of a shortage of drugs needed for lethal injections, three prisoners once sentenced to death — Anthony Ray Hinton, William Ziegler and Montez Spradley — are released from prison after claiming they were wrongly convicted. A fourth death row inmate claiming innocence dies of cancer while fighting his conviction.
RUN TO DEATH
In Etowah County, Joyce Hardin Garrard is convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole in the running death of her 9-year-old granddaughter, Savannah Hardin. Prosecutors claimed the child was forced to run for hours as punishment for a lie about candy.
President Barack Obama is joined on stage by former President George W. Bush in Selma during the 50th anniversary commemoration of the “Bloody Sunday” confrontation where voting rights demonstrators were beaten while attempting to march to Montgomery.
Polaris Industries says it is planning an ATV manufacturing plant that will bring as many as 2,000 jobs to north Alabama. Production is scheduled to begin in 2016 at the 600,000-square-foot plant, located in Limestone County.
A record winter storm dumps a foot of snow on north Alabama in February, leaving roads coated with an icy slush that complicates travel. The storm comes only weeks after an arctic blast that sent temperatures plunging and broke records dating to the 1880s as far south as Mobile.