The federal judge who in January ordered Alabama to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses has issued a second ruling mandating the legalization of these unions. However, she placed the ruling on hold, pending an upcoming Supreme Court decision.
While the hold means the current status quo in Alabama won’t immediately change, the rulings by Judge Callie Granade, a George W. Bush appointee, have created a major clash between Alabama’s state government and the federal judiciary. After her first ruling last January ordering the state to begin same-sex marriages, many of the state’s probate judges, including original defendant Don Davis, defied her and continued to refuse to issue licenses.
The Alabama Supreme Court has joined in on this mass act of civil disobedience, issuing its own ruling commanding state probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In her Thursday ruling, Granade asserts that her authority as a federal judge supersedes that of any Alabama court, and state officials must obey her.
“It is true that if this Court grants the preliminary injunction the probate judges will be faced with complying with either Alabama’s marriage laws that prohibit same-sex marriage as they have been directed by the Alabama Supreme Court or with complying with the United States Constitution as directed by this Court,” writes Granade. “However, the choice should be simple. Under the Supremacy Clause, the laws of the United States are ‘the supreme Law of the Land’… Judge Davis and the other probate judges cannot be held liable for violating Alabama state law when their conduct was required by the United States Constitution.”
The ruling could matter little on its own, however. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case Obergefell v. Hodges in June. Depending on its ruling, the Court could compel every state to legalize gay marriage, or, conversely, could affirm the right for states to set their own marriage policies.
What might happen if Alabama officials attempt to defy the U.S. Supreme Court is unclear, though in 2003 similar defiance from Moore over an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument led to his removal from office.
Thursday’s ruling could also accelerate an unusual bill currently in Alabama’s legislature that would seek to take state employees out of the marriage business. SB377, passed by the Alabama Senate on Tuesday, would end the practice of the state issuing marriage licenses or having state officials preside over marriages.