The Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the state's probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, a decision that flies in the face of numerous rulings by federal judges in Alabama and other states across the country who have said banning gay marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.
The all-Republican court sided with a pair of conservative organizations Tuesday in ruling that the U.S. Constitution doesn't alter the judges' duty to administer state law, which defines marriage as between only one man and one woman.
Six justices concurred in the 134-page opinion, which wasn't signed, but the court's most outspoken opponent of gay marriage, Chief Justice Roy Moore, recused himself.
Gay marriages began in some Alabama counties on Feb. 9 following a decision by U.S. District Judge Callie Granade of Mobile, who ruled that both Alabama's constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
Immediately after the judge's ruling, Moore told probate judges across the state they were not obliged to issue same-sex marriage licenses. His stance created widespread confusion, prompting 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.
The court's ruling Tuesday came in response to a request from the Alabama Policy Institute and the Baptist-run Alabama Citizens Action Program to halt same-sex unions after Granade's ruling.
Justice Jim Main agreed with the result but said he has concerns about procedural aspects "of this highly unusual case."
In a dissent, Justice Greg Shaw said it was "unfortunate" that federal courts refused to delay gay marriage in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court could settle the issue nationally. But, Shaw said, the state Supreme Court doesn't have the power to consider the issue.
The court released the decision while Gov. Robert Bentley and most state leaders were assembled in Montgomery for the state of the state address. A spokeswoman for Bentley said the administration was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.
Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, said he was "very excited" about the decision blocking judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"We are concerned about the family and the danger that same-sex marriage will have. It will be a devastating blow to the family, which is already struggling," Godfrey said.
Godfrey said the decision will give "some stability" in Alabama until the U.S Supreme Court rules later this year. An attorney couples who filed suit to allow gay marriages said the court showed "callous disregard" in the decision and overstepped its bounds by declaring that Alabama's ban on same-sex marriages is constitutional, something the justices hadn't been asked to consider.
"It is deeply unfortunate that even as nationwide marriage equality is on the horizon, the Alabama Supreme Court is determined to be on the wrong side of history," said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.