When Alabama’s gay marriage ban was declared unconstitutional by the Eleventh Circuit Court judge Callie Granade, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore reacted by declaring that his state would ignore this ruling and continue to enforce the Alabama constitution’s ban on same sex marriage. Many counties in Alabama obeyed Roy Moore and continued to refrain from giving out marriage licenses to same sex couples, while some went on strike and refused to give marriage licenses at all.
Many are comparing this to when Alabama refused to desegregate schools despite the federal government’s rulings. In this recent case on gay marriage, there are two problems which are being debated. The first is the morality of same sex marriage. Roy Moore, like most Christians, is firmly against it. The second is over which authority rules on the issue at this point: the federal circuit court judge or Alabama’s constitution.
Moore’s case is that only the U. S. Supreme Court has authority to overturn state laws. When the Eleventh Circuit Court ruled Alabama’s same sex marriage ban unconstitutional, it meant that Alabama’s Attorney General (the man in charge of enforcing laws throughout the state) could no longer enforce the ban. It did not mean, though, that Alabama’s probate judges (the people charged with issuing legal documents) are forced to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. This is because a circuit court judge can only make rulings about a law, not actually make a law.
This is the key part of the legal argument Moore is making. When the circuit court judge made a decision, it only applied to the people involved in that case, not the entire state and all its probate judges. It is definitely a legal grey area that will need a ruling by the Supreme Court, but for now, Moore is legally justified for his actions.
By John Lusk, Class of 2016