Judge Legalizes Gay Marriage in Alabama, But Not Yet

The federal judge who struck down Alabama's laws banning same-sex marriage reaffirmed her decision Thursday evening, but delayed its implementation.
by | May 22, 2015 AT 10:20 AM

By Brian Lyman

The federal judge who struck down Alabama's laws banning same-sex marriage reaffirmed her decision Thursday evening, but delayed its implementation.

In a series of opinions issued in one of the same-sex marriage cases, Callie V.S. Granade, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Alabama, ordered all Alabama probate judges who issue marriage licenses to issue them to same-sex couples, and said an Alabama Supreme Court decision in March banning the licenses could not be grounds for denying them.

However, Granade then stayed the order.

"Because the issues raised by this case are subject to an imminent decision by the United States Supreme Court . . . the above preliminary injunction is stayed until the Supreme Court issues its ruling," she wrote.

The nation's high court is expected to hand down its decision on same-sex marriage next month.

Granade struck down Alabama's 1998 law and 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in two separate decisions in late January, finding they violated same-sex couples' due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Same-sex couples began to marry around the state the following month, though some probate judges either refused to issue licenses or stopped issuing them altogether.

On March 3, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in the state to stop. The state's high court ruled that it had the same authority to interpret the Constitution as a federal court, and promptly found that the bans did not violate the couples' 14th Amendment rights.

The lawsuits that legalized same-sex marriage in Alabama initially named Attorney General Luther Strange and Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis as defendants. Attorneys for couples who were unable to obtain marriage licenses in Mobile filed a motion a few days later asking for all same-sex couples seeking licenses statewide to be added to the lawsuits as plaintiffs, and to name the state's probate judges as defendants.

The plaintiffs also sought an injunction ordering the issuance of marriage licenses.

"Without an injunction, all proposed Plaintiffs and members of the Plaintiff Class would suffer irreparable injury due to the deprivation of constitutional rights, as well as suffering additional harms that are representative of those suffered by other same-sex couples who are denied the dignity, security, and legal protections of marriage," attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in their March 6 filing.

Granade agreed, writing Thursday that the couples' "inability to exercise their fundamental right to marry has caused them irreparable harm that outweighs any injury to defendant."

Davis argued in court filings that he was caught between disobeying the Alabama Supreme Court or a court order from a federal judge. Granade Thursday dismissed the Davis' argument -- and the Alabama Supreme Court's reasoning -- saying the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution ultimately controlled the decision.

"Judge Davis and the other probate judges cannot be held liable for violating Alabama state law when their conduct was required by the United States Constitution," she wrote.

In a footnote, however, Granade wrote the judge "could choose to comply with both orders and issue no marriage licenses." However, the judge wrote any probate judge issuing licenses to opposite-sex couples had to issue them to same-sex couples, regardless of the Alabama Supreme Court's opinion.

Attempts to reach Strange's office for comment Thursday were not immediately successful.

Same-sex marriage advocates hailed the ruling. Southern Poverty Law Center deputy legal director David Dinelli said in a statement it was "a good day for all Alabamians who believe in the rule of law."

"As soon as the United States Supreme Court issues its ruling in June, Judge Granade's decision will go into effect, and probate judges in every county of Alabama will be bound by a federal court order to comply with constitutional principles of fairness and equality," the statement said.

(c)2015 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)