The chief justice of Alabama’s state supreme court has said that because officials who issue marriage licenses were “confused” about higher court rulings on the issue, he has ordered them to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples altogether.
The justice, Roy Moore, says in an order issued Wednesday that the conflict, or “confusion and uncertainty,” lies between a ruling from the state’s supreme court in April that upheld the ban against gay marriage, and one from the US Supreme Court in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergefell vs. Hodges.
According to Moore’s convoluted reasoning, it is unclear whether the US Supreme Court ruling refers to bans issued before its legalization (so, the Alabama ban), and whether it only refers to the states mentioned in its decision: Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
“I am not at liberty to provide any guidance to Alabama probate judges on the effect of Obergefell on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court,” he wrote in his order.
Until the Alabama supreme court rules on the issue, Moore says, probate judges have the “ministerial duty” to withhold from granting marriage licenses to same sex couples. Whether they actually refuse remains unclear.
The problem is that Moore fails to mention rulings issued by federal courts in Alabama. A federal judge and a court of appeals both ruled that the state’s ban was no longer valid.
“I’d be very surprised if any of the probate judges now refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples,” Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Alabama told NBC News. Those who do refuse, could be found in contempt of court for defying the federal judge.
NPR notes that this is not the first time Moore has tried to fight gay marriage:
“Moore has a history of facing off with the federal courts over this issue. In January 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Ginny Granade ruled that the state’s marriage ban was unconstitutional. The next month, Moore instructed probate judges that they weren’t bound by Granade’s decision — leaving probate judges with two contradictory orders.”