A technical ruling by the US Supreme Court on same-sex marriage in Alabama has major significance for same-sex marriage across the US, say LGBT rights activists.
On Monday, the court denied a request by Alabama state officials to suspend a recent federal court ruling striking down the state’s ban on marriage equality.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said that what differentiates this move from previous Supreme Court rulings on state-based gay marriage is that the court confirmed in January that it will consider the larger issue of same-sex marriage across the entire nation in April.
“By refusing to halt marriage licenses in Alabama, the Supreme Court has telegraphed that there is virtually zero risk that they will issue an anti-equality ruling this summer,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Instead, the odds of a ruling bringing marriage equality to all 50 states have increased significantly.”
Many other commentators agree with this view, as does dissenting Supreme Justice Clarence Thomas who said that his colleague’s decision “may well be seen as a signal of the court’s intended resolution.”
In the meantime, Alabama’s LGBT community remains in a state of uncertainty after the conservative Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, issued an order ordering probate judges in the state to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Moore’s move is in defiance of a federal court and, according to the HRC, “in clear violation of all codes of legal ethics, boundaries of jurisdiction, and moral decency.” The Chief Justice argues that states are constitutionally allowed to define marriage and are not bound by federal court rulings in the matter, at least until the Supreme Court weighs in on the issue.
Warbelow said that Moore’s action “is a pathetic, last-ditch attempt at judicial fiat by an Alabama Supreme Court justice—a man who should respect the rule of law rather than advance his personal beliefs.”
According to HRC, as many as 40 counties in Alabama may be denying marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. At least one complaint has been filed against a local probate judge for contempt for failing to issue licenses.
Some lower courts in the state, however, went ahead and allowed same-sex couples to marry on Monday. With Alabama, gay and lesbian couples can now in theory legally marry in 37 states in the US.