March 4, 2015 / 4:56 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 3-Alabama judges stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples after ruling

(Adds comment from advocate, analyst; detail)

By Jonathan Kaminsky

March 4 (Reuters) - Local judges across Alabama on Wednesday stopped issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in compliance with a ruling a day earlier by the Alabama Supreme Court that was in apparent defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court.

No probate judge in any of Alabama’s 67 counties said they were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with some providing no comment when asked, the gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said. Before Tuesday’s ruling, most probate judges were issuing the licenses.

The 7-1 Alabama high court ruling found that the state’s gay marriage ban, passed by 81 percent of voters in 2006, is constitutional.

The decision, which underscored the depth of opposition to gay matrimony in the socially conservative state, came roughly three weeks after U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s conflicting decision overturning the ban went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to put it on hold.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this year to take up the issue of whether states can ban gay marriage. Its expected ruling in June likely will provide clarity on the issue in Alabama, as well as the 13 states where gay marriage remains illegal.

One of the local judges bound by the Alabama high court’s ruling, Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, was last month ordered by Granade to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He said on Wednesday that his office had stopped issuing licenses to all couples as it analyzed the conflict.

“We regret having to take this action but feel that it is necessary given the unprecedented circumstances that currently exist,” a statement posted on the probate court’s website said.

Gay rights advocates were critical of the ruling.

“This is only a temporary setback on the road to equality, but the message it sends to LGBT Alabamians is despicable,” Sarah Warbelow, the Human Rights Campaign’s legal director, said in a statement.

Among the probate judges who had not begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples was Elmore County Probate Judge John Enslen, who in a Facebook post applauded the ruling as recognizing what he described as the natural superiority of heterosexual unions.

“Man can pass a million laws and those laws will never make the two unions equal,” he wrote. “It is like trying to pass a law against the operation of gravity.”

Abstaining from the ruling was the court’s conservative chief justice, Roy Moore, a political lightning rod who ordered the state’s probate judges to disregard Granade’s ruling just before it took effect.

Same-sex couples in Alabama who have secured marriage licenses in the past three weeks are unlikely to be affected by the ruling, said Ronald Krotoszynski, a constitutional law expert at the University of Alabama School of Law.

The ruling, by Alabama’s elected, all-Republican high court, may be due in part to justices’ worries over voter backlash, he said.

“It’s really chaotic,” he said. “This is not the way the railroad is supposed to run.” (Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Bill Trott and Mohammad Zargham)

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