Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s recent order urging state probate judges to cease the issue of marriage licenses to same-sex couples has provoked the response of a presidential candidate and caused “grave concern” among U.S. Attorneys in the state.
On Wednesday, Jan. 6, Moore released a statement that closed with an order to Alabama state probate judges to obey their “ministerial” duties by refusing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect,” Moore wrote.
In response to Moore’s order, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton issued a statement on Wednesday night that did not directly name Moore, but addressed marriage equality in Alabama.
“Marriage equality is now the law of the land – including in Alabama,” Clinton said. “Today’s unconstitutional order reminds us that, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that all Americans have the right to marry the person they love, our work is far from over. There are still judges who are determined to stand in the way of people’s rights.”
On Thursday morning, a press release quoted disagreement with Moore’s order from U.S. Attorneys Joyce White Vance of the Northern District of Alabama and Kenyen Brown of the Southern District of Alabama.
“The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has issued an administrative order, directing probate judges that they may not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year on marriage equality. We have grave concerns about this order, which directs Alabama probate judges to disobey the ruling of the Supreme Court,” said Vance and Brown.
“Government officials are free to disagree with the law, but not to disobey it. This issue has been decided by the highest court in the land and Alabama must follow that law.”
The district Vance serves includes 31 counties and almost three million people, which is approximately 60 percent of Alabama’s population.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional. However, in an interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 7, Moore denied that his order is in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Probate judges should be following the orders of the Alabama Supreme Court, the highest state authority. If that state authority does find that (the U.S. Supreme Court decision) does have an effect on their order, they will remove the injunction. If they do not, I guess the injunction will continue,” Moore told AP.
According to WVTM 13, Moore advocated his recent order in a message at the First Baptist Church of Center Point on Sunday.
“There’s no bigger issue in Alabama than the whole structure of the foundation of our families and family government,” Moore said.
Montgomery Probate Judge Steven Reed was one of the first to publicly announce his disagreement with Moore’s order via his Twitter account on Jan. 6: “Judge Moore’s latest charade is just sad & pathetic. My office will ignore him & this. #alpolitics” (@stevenlouisreed)
In an interview with Weld, Reed said that both disbelief and disgust for Moore’s order fueled his tweet, and it did not take much deliberation on his end to stand by his decision to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.
“I took Moore’s statement seriously, but I didn’t think it had legal standing at all. The U.S. Supreme Court rule is binding,” Reed said.
“Seven months later, this shouldn’t still be a discussion. We cannot pick and choose which laws to ignore.”
Reed cited both the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down same-sex marriage bans nationwide and the ruling from U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. “Ginny” Granade that specifically prohibited Alabama probate judges from banning same-sex marriage.
“I think [Moore’s statement] had the impact that he wanted it to have. It was a pathetic tactic to prey on fear and confusion and as a chief justice, I know that he knows better. He wanted to cause chaos, draw attention to himself, and possibly boost fundraising for his foundation.”
In closing, Reed reiterated his belief that Moore’s actions were pathetic and attention-seeking.
“It’s unbecoming of a chief justice, because this is a nation of laws, not men.”
As in previous cases where Moore has clashed with the federal courts, this instance has brought national attention. BuzzFeed, CBS News, ABC, the Atlantic, the New York Times and others have given coverage to the chief justice’s latest conflict with the Supreme Court’s rulings.
This is not the first time Moore’s position on a major federal ruling has been questioned: In 2003, Moore was removed from his position as chief justice for defying an order by the U.S. Supreme Court to remove a Ten Commandments monument from Alabama’s Judicial Building that he had installed, without permission of the Court, in 2001.
Upon refusing to remove the monument, Moore announced his decision saying, “The entire judicial system of the State of Alabama is established in the Alabama constitution invoking the favor and guidance of almighty God.”
As of Jan. 7, only 13 counties in Alabama were not issuing marriage licenses. The majority of these 13 counties were not doing so prior to Moore’s order.
Several counties, such as Mobile, Lawrence, and Madison, temporarily suspended the issue of marriage licenses after Moore’s order, but have since resumed.