WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to stop marriage equality rulings in Alabama from going into effect this morning, denying a stay in the pending federal court cases there.
The move comes even as the state's Supreme Court chief justice, Roy Moore, has purported to bar probate judges there from granting same-sex couples marriage licenses.
It was not immediately clear how probate judges across the state would react to the seemingly conflicting orders — although one, a spokesperson in Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven L. Reed's office, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples this morning. Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King says his office will issue licenses as well, the New York Times reports. Madison County Judge Tommy Ragland's office confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they will issue same-sex marriage license between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. CT today. Same-sex couples are marrying in Etowah County as well.
Although the probate judges are not currently a party to the rulings that the Supreme Court allowed to go into effect Monday morning from U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade, Granade has made clear that a same-sex couple could come to her seeking to intervene in the cases if a probate judge declines to grant a same-sex couple a marriage license. Should that happen, it is not clear whether Moore would step aside and allow a license to be issued.
Additionally, if a probate judge does grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it was not yet clear how Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley would react. Moore's Feb. 8 order stated that it would be Bentley's responsibility to address the situation if a probate judge did so.
Attorney General Luther Strange expressed regret over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny the state's motion for a stay of the district court ruling striking down Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Strange said, “I regret the Supreme Court’s decision not to stay the federal district court’s ruling until the high court finally settles the issue this summer. In the absence of a stay, there will likely be more confusion in the coming months leading up to the Supreme Court’s anticipated ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage."
Strange said that while probate judges did not report to him, he advised them to talk to their attorneys about how to respond to the ruling and referred state agencies to the governor's office with questions about the ruling.
"With the lifting of the 14-day stay on February 9, 2015, the U.S. District Court order remains in effect, enjoining me from enforcing Alabama’s laws against same-sex marriage in my official capacity as Attorney General," Strange continued in the statement. "To clarify my authority in this matter, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office does not issue marriage licenses, perform marriage ceremonies, or issue adoption certificates. The Chief Justice has explained in a public memorandum that probate judges do not report to me. I advise probate judges to talk to their attorneys and associations about how to respond to the ruling. Furthermore, I encourage any state agencies with questions about the ruling in Searcy and Strawser to contact the Governor’s Office."
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore said that the federal judge was exercising authority which she didn't have to mandate same-sex couples' marriages in the state. In an interview with Wyde radio station on Monday, Moore said that the federal judge's injunction did not apply to the state's probate courts because they were not parties to that case.
"The federal court did not issue the order to the probate judges, and even if it did, it would not be enforceable," Moore said. "How can we have a stay or lifting of a stay for something she did not order?"
Calling it an "illegal order," Moore said, "I cannot allow courts under my state to be intimidated by the federal court's decision."
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley responded to Monday's news, saying the multiple decisions have "created confusion" but announcing, "I will not take any action against Probate Judges, which would only serve to further complicate this issue."