Since last Monday, same-sex couples in Alabama have seen their hopes and dreams realized by being able to receive marriage licenses in their home state. However, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has taken his stance against the issue by theoretically standing in the courthouse door.
As the state prepared over the weekend for a stay on a federal ruling against Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban to be lifted, Chief Justice Moore was preparing a decree for probate judges around the state to stand up against the ruling. Late Sunday night he announced his order to judges and media around the state.
Judge Moore ordered probate judges to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to samesex couples based on the fact that they are responsible for adhering to state law, not federal law.
Unfortunately Judge Moore’s order disregarded the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly places federal rulings as the law of the land.
Yet, his plea was adhered to by a handful of probate judges around the state. Early on Monday, most probate judges were denying same sex marriage licenses based on Judge Moore’s order.
By the end of the day, most probate judges had been pressured to begin issuing the licenses. In Calhoun County, the probate court denied couples their licenses citing and even handing out copies of Judge Moore’s order.
However, by Tuesday, Calhoun County’s probate court and others were issuing the licenses. Even in Etowah County, Moore’s home county, the probate courts were issuing licenses to samesex couples without question.
Moore has uniquely positioned himself at the center of this debate in Alabama. In fact, he is being compared to Alabama Governor George Wallace who stood in the schoolhouse door at University of Alabama in the 1950s in an attempt to block integration of state schools.
Now, looking back most Alabamians have realized the reality of Wallace’s actions at the time, and changed their minds. It is safe to say that in decades to come, history will look back on Moore’s attempt to defy federal rulings equally as out-of-touch with the scope of the realities of federalism.
Moore’s argument has been that the federal judge operated outside the extent of her authority when ruling against state law. However, as a constitutional judge she is tasked with making sure state laws adhere to the U.S. Constitution.
Many, including Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, wished the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on the issue and extend the stay on the federal judge’s ruling. However, on the same day that the stay was lifted, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s request to extend it.
This, in effect, made the federal judge’s ruling the law of the land. As the highest court in the United States, the Supreme Court effectively said the ruling was fair based on their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
In Moore’s defense, I am sure he believes that he is operating on the right side of the law, or at least of morality – and that argument can be made. However, in this nation, federal law always trumps state law, and Moore is limited in his ability to change that effect.