As of February 9th, 2015, same-sex marriage is legal in Alabama. But the legalization came with some struggle and confusion, including conflicting orders from federal and state courts.
Here’s the breakdown: On January 23rd federal Judge Callie Granade ruled in Searcy v. Strange that Alabama’s Marriage Protection Act is unconstitutional (read more about it here). Her ruling went into effect on February 9th.
In response, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore issued an order telling probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The legalities of his order were dubious, and the repercussions for judges who disregarded it were unclear. So, some judges issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples anyway (and were not punished), some judges complied with Judge Moore, while still others stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether, creating a huge headache for many.
On Thursday, February 12th, after a group of gay couples went back to federal court to claim their right to marriage licenses, Judge Granade agreed, ordering that all judges in the state of Alabama start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples (see here for more on that).
So where are we now? Most judges have been complying with Granade’s order to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but there is still one major hurdle to overcome, as the case is still on appeal. Though it seems unlikely, there is still a possibility that the ruling could be reversed, and Judge Moore will be fighting for the reversal nail and tooth. He has even said he’ll defy the US Supreme Court if it decides to back same-sex marriage in the upcoming hearings in April (see the article in the New York Times here and today’s article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
But Moore seems to be increasingly on the losing side: the US Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 last week to legalize same-sex marriage in Alabama. With Scalia and Thomas as the only dissenting judges, things seem to be looking up for a pro-equality ruling this spring. Marriage of Convenience, an essay that appeared in the New York Times Magazine on February 1st, gives a nice background on those upcoming hearings.
As of today, 37 states have legalized same-sex marriage, and 13 states have banned it. See here for a breakdown. We’ll provide updates as things progress this spring.