by Jay Reeves
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The probate office in one of Alabama’s biggest counties said Wednesday that it will quit issuing marriage licenses to anyone after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is legal despite a federal court’s decision to the contrary.
The all-Republican Supreme Court sided with a pair of conservative groups Tuesday night and ordered Alabama’s 68 probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
The court ruled that a previous ruling by a federal judge that gay-marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution does not preclude the judges from following state law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The probate court in Mobile posted a notice on its website Wednesday saying it would quit issuing all marriage licenses while reviewing the decision.
“We regret having to take this action, but feel that it is necessary given the unprecedented circumstances that currently exist,” said the announcement.
It was not immediately clear what judges in Alabama’s other 66 counties would do.
The court gave state judges five days to respond if they believe they shouldn’t have to follow the decision, but such a move could be politically risky in much of the deeply conservative state.
The U.S. Supreme Court also could be asked to review the ruling.
The federal judge’s decision in January had made Alabama the 37th state where gay couples were legally allowed to wed. A string of legal rulings across the country in recent years have mostly favored gay marriage advocates.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June regarding whether gay couples nationwide have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions.
While the Alabama Supreme Court did not explicitly invalidate the marriages of hundreds of same-sex couples who obtained licenses in the state in recent weeks, the decision used the term “purported” to describe those licenses.
It was the second time this year that conflicting legal rulings over same-sex marriage have stirred confusion in Alabama.
After the federal judge’s ruling, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told probate judges across the state not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. His stance prompted some judges to refuse to issue the licenses and others to shut down their operations for all couples, gay and straight, until they could get a clear answer. Still others decided to issue the licenses.
Moore, the Alabama Supreme Court’s most outspoken opponent of gay marriage, recused himself from the case that was decided Tuesday.