Why Alabama's top judge just revived the same-sex marriage ban

Defying the US Supreme Court ruling that prohibits any ban on gay marriage, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered the state's probate judges Wednesday to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Tammy McKinley/Gadsden Times/AP
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore announces his intention to run for Governor of Alabama at the Mary G. Hardin Cultural Center in Gadsden, Ala., Oct. 3, 2005.

The chief justice for Alabama’s Supreme Court issued an order Wednesday halting the state’s probate judges from distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Citing a March ruling by the Alabama high court that upholds the state’s banning of gay marriage, Chief Justice Roy Moore said the judges "have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary" to the state law.

The discrepancy between the US Supreme Court’s decision last June to allow same-sex marriage and Alabama’s own prohibition of the practice has caused “confusion and uncertainty,” Mr. Moore wrote in his administrative order.

The effect of his order is not immediately clear as it directly contradicts the nation's high court decision that marriage is a "fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person," regardless of the genders of the participants.

In the landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the US Supreme Court deemed any state-sanctioned bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

But Moore argues that the June ruling only pertained to Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.

"I am not at liberty to provide any guidance to Alabama probate judges on the effect of Obergefell on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court," he wrote. "That issue remains before the entire [Alabama Supreme] Court which continues to deliberate on the matter."

As The Christian Science Monitor's Warren Richey reported at the time of the Obergefell ruling, that decision mandated that all 50 states must issue licenses to same-sex couples and recognize the legitimacy of same-sex marriages performed in any other state.

“The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry,” US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “No longer may this liberty be denied to them.”

Moore’s latest decree marks the second time he has gone against federal orders to defend Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. Last February, after US District Judge Callie Granade ruled that Alabama's policies against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, Moore told probate judges that they were not obligated to issue any licenses.

"It's about the institution of marriage and when that institution is destroyed, it's the basic building block for our society," Moore told CBS in February. "I issued this ruling because of my duty to the Constitution and laws of Alabama but also because I believe that the redefinition of marriage is not within the federal government."

Moore is a conservative Christian, also known for refusing federal orders 13 years ago to take down a Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building. For this act of defiance, he was removed from office, but was re-elected as chief justice in 2012.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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