MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A federal judge on Sunday put a two-week hold on her decision that overturned Alabama's gay marriage ban, but said same-sex couples should not be kept in lengthy legal limbo.
U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade refused the Alabama attorney general's request to put her ruling on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the decision of gay marriage later this year. But she did issue a 14-day stay to give the state time to appeal her decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Granade said it was inappropriate, in her view, to put the decision on lengthy hold.
"As long as a stay is in place, same-sex couples and their families remain in a state of limbo with respect to adoption, child care and custody, medical decisions, employment and health benefits, future tax implications, inheritance and many other rights associated with marriage," she wrote.
Some hoping to get married swiftly expressed disappointment over the two-week hold.
"It's aggravating. The judge ruled and everybody got so excited and now, this," said Tori Sisson, who had camped outside the Montgomery courthouse Sunday night with Shante Wolfe in hopes of securing a marriage license first thing Monday.
The stay will expire Feb. 9 unless the court extends it.
Granade had ruled Friday that Alabama's statutory and constitutional bans on gay marriage were in violation of the U.S. Constitution. That ruling was the latest in a string of victories for same-sex marriage advocates around the Deep South after judges struck down bans in Mississippi, Arkansas, the Carolinas and Florida. The judge's order reverberated in a state considered one of the Bible Belt's most socially conservative.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange called the 14-day stay a step in the right direction.
"While I would have preferred a longer stay to allow the matter to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court's anticipated ruling in June, the 14-day stay allows more time for my office to prepare our stay request to the 11th Circuit Court while also affording the public time to resolve the confusion over the impact of the recent ruling," Strange said.
Granade's ruling striking down the marriage ban came out of a case filed by Cari Searcy and McKeand of Mobile. The couple said the ban prevented Alabama from recognizing their 2008 California marriage and Searcy as a parent to their son. McKeand gave birth to the child in 2005, but the court's rejected Searcy's adoption petition because the couple was not legally married.
Grande said before the stay expires that she would also issue a separate order addressing a key issue of dispute in the wake of her initial ruling: Must state probate judges begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples?
The Alabama Probate Judges' Association maintains that Friday's ruling applies only to the parties in that case, and that it doesn't require judges to issue marriage licenses to other same-sex couples.
One probate judge and president of the association, Greg Norris of Monroe County, said probate judges have a duty to issue licenses in accordance with Alabama law, which means they can't issue them to same-sex couples.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs in the original case had asked Granade to clarify the scope of her ruling regarding the issuance of marriage licenses.
"Clarification is necessary as the Probate Judges Association in Alabama have assumed the position like George Wallace at the schoolhouse door staring defiantly upon this court's order," attorney David Kennedy wrote in a motion filed Sunday afternoon.