WASHINGTON — A week after the Supreme Court agreed to take up the issue of same-sex couples' marriage rights, a federal trial court judge in Alabama declared that state's ban to be unconstitutional.
Absent a stay of the ruling being issued, same-sex couples should be able to begin marrying in Alabama when county offices open on Monday morning.
"If anything, Alabama's prohibition of same-sex marriage detracts from its goal of promoting optimal environments for children," U.S. District Court Judge Callie V. S. Granade wrote in a brief 10-page opinion, concluding, "[T]he court finds that Alabama's marriage laws violate the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."
The lawsuit was brought by a same-sex couple, Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, who had married in California and were seeking recognition of their marriage by Alabama for, among other reasons, adoption purposes.
Despite that, Granade declares the amendment and statutes involved to be unconstitutional as to both recognition of out-of-state marriages and marriages that are performed in Alabama.
Throughout the opinion, she specifies both marriage and recognition are being considered.
"The Attorney General does not explain how allowing or recognizing same-sex marriage between two consenting adults will prevent heterosexual parents or other biological kin from caring for their biological children," she notes at one point, for example. Later, she concludes that "Alabama's prohibition and non-recognition of same-sex marriage" financially harms the children of same-sex couples "because it denies the families of these children a panoply of benefits that the State and the federal government offer to families who are legally wed."
Additionally, Granade provides no stay in her ruling, nor does she provide any discussion of whether a stay was considered. Without a stay, the ruling goes into effect immediately.
The combined effect of the broad scope of the ruling and the lack of a stay means that Granade's intention appears to be that same-sex couples can marry in Alabama immediately.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange plans to seek a stay of the ruling.
"We are disappointed and are reviewing the Federal District Court's decision. We expect to ask for a stay of the court's judgment pending the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling which will ultimately decide this case," Strange spokesman Mike Lewis told BuzzFeed News.
In the judgment enforcing the court's decision, Granade — a 2001 appointee of President George W. Bush — wrote:
"ALA. CONST. ART. I, § 36.03 (2006) and ALA. CODE 1975 § 30-1-19 are hereby DECLARED to be unconstitutional because they violate they Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The defendant Luther Strange, in his capacity as Attorney General for the State of Alabama, is hereby ENJOINED from enforcing those laws."
An appeal would be heard by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is yet to rule on the issue of same-sex couples' marriage rights — but did decline to extend a temporary stay in the federal case challenging Florida's marriage ban.
Read the opinion and order:
This story has been updated with additional information about the scope of the ruling and a response from the Alabama Attorney General's Office.
The speaker of the Alabama House, Mike Hubbard, called the ruling "outrageous" on Friday night.
The plaintiffs, Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, issued a statement through their lawyers about the ruling, saying, "We are both parents in every way to our son, legally Searcy is a STRANGER NO MORE! We just want our son to have the same protections that every child in Alabama enjoys and now he can!"
Attorneys Christine Hernandez and David Kennedy added in the statement, "We are pleased with the ruling and believe it to be in accordance with the U.S. Constitution."
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has asked U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade to stay her ruling pending the outcome of the Supreme Court's consideration of the same-sex marriage issue in other cases this spring.
After describing why his office's the factors used to decide whether a stay should be granted have been met in this case, Strange stated that the "factors have led other courts to issue stays in similar circumstances."
He cited stays granted in marriage cases from states in the 5th Circuit and 6th Circuit courts of appeals, but the filing does not mention the stay denied in Florida's marriage case by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which would hear any appeal of the Alabama case, or any of the three stay requests denied in recent months by the Supreme Court, which included a request in the Florida case.
Read the request for a stay:
The Alabama Probate Judges Association "says the ruling doesn't open the door for the issuance of same sex marriage licenses," WAAY reported on Saturday.
"Judge Granade's ruling in this case only applies to the parties in the case and has no effect on anybody that is not a named party. The probate judges were not parties in this matter," Al Agricola, attorney for the Alabama Probate Judges Association, explained in the WAAY report. "The legal effect of this decision is to allow one person in one same sex marriage that was performed in another state to adopt their partner's child. There is nothing in the judge's order that requires probate judges in Alabama to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples."