Chief Justice Roy Moore, of Alabama, recently re-entered the seemingly settled battle over marriage equality. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the summer of 2015, officials in several states have continued to fight to try to either prevent same-sex couples from marrying in their states or counties, or to at least make receiving a marriage license more difficult for same-sex couples than opposite-sex couples.
Justice Moore was a staunch opponent of marriage equality before the ruling. He had already defied an order from a Federal judge to allow marriages to begin in his state, but said that if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage rights, he would accept the law, but recuse himself from any cases involving a same-sex couple’s right to wed.
This earned Chief Justice Moore a vocal backing from a variety of already-controversial groups and individuals: the KKK, the American Family Association, and Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.
Recently, though, it seems that Moore reversed his decision to accept (albeit without his own participation) the Supreme Court’s ruling: according to AL, he issued an order declaring the ruling of his own state’s Supreme Court superior to the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States. In March of last year, Moore points out, Alabama’s Supreme Court issued an order declaring that judges in the state must follow the state’s constitution, including the amendment forbidding the marriage between same-sex couples.
While the SCOTUS ruling declared that any such law was unconstitutional, Justice Moore suggested that the ruling was confusing and the cause of uncertainty, and stated that judges had to follow Alabama’s law, regardless of SCOTUS.
His official statement, posted on his Foundation for Moral Law site, declared as follows.
“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 issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.”
According to ABC, Moore later denied that this was a defiance of the Supreme Court ruling, maintaining that he only wanted judges to refuse same-sex couples marriage licenses until “clarification” from the Supreme Court could be obtained regarding what Chief Justice Moore calls “lingering questions.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which had previously filed ethics complaints against Chief Justice Roy Moore for his efforts to forestall marriage rights, has filed an amendment to the complaint regarding this latest declaration. The amendment also calls for Moore’s removal from the bench, citing the order that removed him over a decade earlier (Moore was subsequently returned to his position).
In that order, Justice Moore was removed for failing to recognize and accept that Federal laws and rulings take precedence over those at the state level, and this case seems to mirror it in this respect.
However, whatever the Ethics Committee and higher courts may eventually rule regarding the Chief Justice’s position, it appears that he has already lost within his own state: according to the Advocate, compliance with Moore’s declaration lasted barely a day — he issued the decree on Wednesday, and by Thursday morning, probate judges had already resumed issuing marriage licenses.
Numerous legal organizations, civil rights groups, and individual attorneys issued statements, saying that Justice Roy Moore was wrong, that his order was unenforceable and could put other judges at risk of legal troubles, and affirming that Supreme Court rulings override state laws and rulings in state courts.
At least one probate judge publicly denounced the decree. Judge Steven Louis Reed, of Montgomery County, announced on social media that his office would ignore the order — and Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Reed wasn’t alone: according to the Montgomery Advertiser, probate judges in at least 41 of the state’s 67 counties said they were continuing to issue marriage licenses despite the order, and, as noted above, counties that did interrupt service for some couples have returned to issuing licenses to all legal applicants.
Chief Justice Roy Moore may continue his fight, but it appears that the matter has been settled for officials in positions below his, as well as for those above.
[Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images]