The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy S. Moore, on Wednesday effectively ordered probate judges in the state not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a move that could cloud the carrying out of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex unions.
Within hours of an administrative order, the probate court in Mobile County said on its website that it was “not issuing marriage licenses to any applicants until further notice.” That probate office, among the busiest in Alabama, was involved in the litigation that last year prompted a federal judge in Mobile to strike down the state’s marriage restrictions as unconstitutional.
Moore previously used an administrative order to try to derail same-sex nuptials in Alabama. On a Sunday night last February, hours before same-sex marriages were scheduled to begin in the state, he issued a similar order to probate judges, most of whom defied the edict.
On Wednesday, Moore, who is among the country’s most prominent religious conservatives, argued, in part, that probate judges should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of a state Supreme Court decision that upheld Alabama’s marriage prohibitions. The conflicting decisions in Washington and Montgomery, the chief justice wrote, had prompted “confusion and uncertainty” among Alabama’s probate judges about how to apply the federal court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
“Many probate judges are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in accordance with Obergefell; others are issuing marriage licenses only to couples of the opposite gender or have ceased issuing all marriage licenses,” he wrote. “This disparity affects the administration of justice in this state.”
Moore also wrote that “a judgment only binds the parties to the case before the court.” The Obergefell case included litigants from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
The chief justice’s order prompted criticism from supporters of same-sex marriage.
“Roy Moore is obstructing same-sex couples’ access to marriage, which they are constitutionally guaranteed,” said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign.
Some probate judges said they would ignore the chief justice. In a post on Twitter, Judge Steven L. Reed of Montgomery County Probate Court said he would continue to process marriage licenses for all couples.