US Supreme Court refuses to block gay marriage in Alabama
MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block same-sex marriages in Alabama on Monday, an order that one dissenting justice said could be seen as a signal that his colleagues have already decided gay and lesbian couples have a right to marry nationwide.
Alabama, one of the country’s most conservative states, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples promptly after the Supreme Court let a hold that a federal judge had placed on gay marriages expire.
The Alabama order comes as the Supreme Court heads toward a potentially historic, nationwide ruling on the divisive social issue. Last month, the high court announced it would hear arguments on whether gay couples have a right to marry everywhere in America, and a decision is expected by late June.
In a dissenting opinion, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas criticized his colleagues for refusing to block same-sex marriages in Alabama until the high court resolves the issue nationwide.
Thomas said the court’s Alabama order could be seen as a signal that the justices already have decided they will declare that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the Constitution.
Alabama became the 37th U.S. state where gays can legally wed. Same-sex matrimony is now banned in only 13 of the 50 states, following a flurry of legal victories for gay marriage advocates in recent years. Two-thirds of Americans now live in states where gay marriage is legal.
A federal judge in January ruled that the Alabama ban was unconstitutional but she put a hold on the order until Monday to give the state time to appeal. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange had asked the Supreme Court to extend the hold because of the high court’s expected nationwide ruling on gay marriage.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision, probate judges in the southern state began granting licenses to couples, some of whom had been lined up for hours and exited courthouses to applause from supporters.
“I figured that we would be that last ones — I mean, they would drag Alabama kicking and screaming to equality,” said Laura Bush, who married Dee Bush in a ceremony in a park outside the courthouse in Birmingham after receiving a license.
Gay marriage remains deeply divisive in Alabama.
In a statement, Gov. Robert Bentley noted that the Supreme Court would rule on this issue later and said, “I am disappointed that a single Federal court judge disregarded the vote of the Alabama people to define marriage as between a man and woman.”
The state’s Chief Justice Roy Moore had made an 11th-hour attempt to block the weddings, ordering all probate judges to refuse to issue licenses.
Local media reports showed that at least 11 of Alabama’s 67 counties refused to issue marriage licenses Monday.
Russell County Probate Judge Alford Parden said his office had turned away at least one same-sex couple because of Moore’s order but was issuing licenses to heterosexual couples. He said he considered the letter from Moore, the state’s top judicial officer, a binding court order.
Critics said Moore had no authority to tell county probate judges to enforce a law that a federal judge already ruled unconstitutional.
Moore has been one of the state’s most outspoken critics of gay marriage; in 2002 he called homosexuality an “evil” in a custody ruling.
Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said she has heard of four counties where judges have refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
She said the judges face the risk of lawsuits for refusing.
Associated Press writers Kim Chandler Montgomery, Alabama, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, and Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this story.