A federal district court Thursday ordered that all Alabama probate judges must comply with the U.S. Constitution and may not refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples after four leading civil rights organizations requested the court expand a lawsuit to cover all same-sex couples and probate judges statewide. The district court’s order will take effect when the United States Supreme Court issues its decision in several pending cases seeking the freedom to marry in four states. The Supreme Court marriage cases were argued in April, and a ruling is expected by the end of June.
U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade’s ruling applies to all probate judges in Alabama’s 67 counties. The state’s probate judges are responsible for issuing marriage licenses. The ruling expands the court’s order earlier this year requiring the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in Mobile County.
Thursday’s order by the federal district court makes clear that probate judges are obligated to obey the United States Constitution and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples regardless of a ruling issued earlier this year by the Alabama Supreme Court, which stated that county probate judges could not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Licenses must be issued in Alabama as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the marriage cases now pending before it.
“This is a victory for the LGBT community of Alabama,” said Susan Watson, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama. “We applaud the court for its ruling that puts an end to the chaos created by the Alabama Supreme Court. Today love is triumphant.”
“It’s a shame that it had to come to this,” said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan. “Probate judges, and the Alabama Supreme Court, should have seen the writing on the wall with the federal court’s earlier rulings. It is time for bigotry against same-sex couples to come to an end – in Alabama and elsewhere.”
National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter added, “Today’s ruling is a powerful affirmation of the rule of law and the founding principle of our nation that states may not deny rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Same-sex couples and their children deserve the same respect and protections that their neighbors enjoy, and today’s ruling guarantees that Alabama’s same-sex couples will soon be treated the same as other families.”
“Judge Granade’s ruling is decisive and definitive. It ends the chaos and confusion that Attorney General Strange and Chief Justice Moore have intentionally caused through their reckless rejection of federal constitutional principles,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “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. This is a good day for all Alabamians who believe in the rule of law.”
Most Alabama probate judges started issuing same-sex marriage licenses in February after Granade declared unconstitutional an Alabama law and an Alabama constitutional provision banning same-sex marriages. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently declined to stay Granade’s ruling.
The Alabama Supreme Court halted same-sex marriages throughout the state March 3 by ordering probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Granade’s latest order overrides the Alabama Supreme Court’s order.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center jointly filed the motion March 6 asking Granade to expand her ruling to apply to all same-sex couples and all probate judges throughout the state.
The motion sought class action status to include all same-sex couples in Alabama who wish to marry and have their marriage recognized by the state as plaintiffs and all probate judges of the state as defendants. The request was filed as part of the lawsuit, Strawser v. Strange, brought by five same-sex couples after previously obtaining an order from Granade requiring the issuance of marriage licenses in Mobile County.
Learn more about Strawser v. Strange.