The state of Alabama has been one of the holdouts against same-sex marriage despite the US Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 nullifying all state bans against it. The state’s chief justice Roy Moore has been adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and on March 3, 2015, before the US Supreme Court’s ruling, the state’s supreme court (with only one justice in dissent) had barred all the state probate court judges from issuing such licenses.
It was not clear what the status of the state court’s decision was after the US Supreme Court ruling, especially since most of the state’s 67 counties started issuing same-sex marriage licenses in spite of the ban. Two conservative groups had filed petitions urging the state supreme court to enforce its March 2015 ruling, in defiance of the US Supreme Court. But on Friday, the state supreme court dismissed those petitions.
The conservative groups are claiming victory since the state court did not explicitly repudiate its earlier ruling. But Lyle Denniston says that rejection of the conservative petition means that the state supreme court has grudgingly thrown in the towel.
Throughout the time that the case seeking open defiance of the Supreme Court was pending, one of the judges, Justice Greg Shaw, had been arguing repeatedly against any such resistance. On Friday, in his twenty-five-page concurring opinion, joined in part by two other justices, Shaw contended that the state court should not put itself in defiance of the Supreme Court, and contended that the Obergefell decision was binding all across the nation, not just binding in the four states whose bans were directly at issue in that decision — contrary to an argument made by Chief Justice Moore about the supposedly limited nature of the Obergefell ruling.
With the outright dismissal of all matters related to the defiance case, that legal controversy came to an end, leaving Alabama’s probate judges under only the federal court order to treat same-sex couples equally in access to marriage licenses.
The dead-enders will continue to fight skirmishes against same-sex marriage but the Alabama challenge, which was the most serious constitutional one yet that challenged the primacy of US Supreme Court rulings over state ones, seems to be over.