Probate judges in Alabama's 67 counties were caught in a tug of war between state and federal courts over the issue of same-sex marriage on Tuesday and were ordered by the state supreme court to stop issuing the licenses.
As of noon Wednesday, the Human Rights Campaign had identified 42 counties it said had stopped issuing same-sex licenses as of today. Another 19 never issued the licenses and the status of six -- Bullock, Crenshaw, Lamar, Macon, Monroe, Sumter -- is unclear, the advocacy group reported.
"Because of the Alabama Supreme Court's willingness to ignore their oath of office, all Alabama's counties appear to be in conflict with the intent of a federal court order," HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a press release. "This is only a temporary setback on the road to equality, but the message it sends to LGBT Alabamians is despicable."
Same-sex couples will likely appeal up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary to block the latest state supreme court ruling, said Ben Cooper, chairman of Equality Alabama. "It's important to understand that this is not nearly the end of this," he said.
The federal government does not take kindly to states getting in the way of their rulings. Attorney Shelley Bilbrey notes, “You know at some point, we end up with the George Wallace standing at the school-house door situation.” Let’s say a probate judge wants to issue a same-sex marriage license. Let’s say they want to side with the federal court and ignore the state ruling. Why not?
Bilbrey answers, “They would be fearful of a contempt citing.” She’s saying probate judges could be jailed for following a federal court decision. You can see why they may be reluctant to issue the same-sex marriage licenses, no matter their own feelings on the legality or morality of the issue. Bilbrey adds, “Regardless of what he believes about the issue, I certainly would never want to risk a contempt citing.” Because the ruling itself shows the state supreme court is using a lot of the powers at their disposal. As for contempt, Bilbrey assesses, “I wouldn’t doubt that they would exercise that, since they’ve already taken this drastic measure.”
The Republicans in our state house and in our courthouses promised smaller, less intrusive government, but right now they are trying, instead, to write our marriage vows for us. And that love and cherish and sweet old fashioned notion stuff just got struck right out. The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that love is not a factor in marriage. Have they decided to send us back hundreds of years to arranged marriages, when we weren't able to choose who we'd marry? No, these perverse judges instead want to look in our underpants to make sure our parts are compatible for baby-making.