Tensions in Alabama’s courts over same-sex marriage could set a precedent for future disputes

Rainbow Flag 37 StatesLast July I wrote a piece about the amazing pace same-sex marriage was operating under. Like a game of checkers, states were seeing their amendment bans being struck off the board by the progressive movement. Through legislative action, referendums, or judicial reviews, a decade had gone by the time 19 states had incorporated equal marriage laws into their agendas.

Fast forward eight more months, now more than 30 states have overturned same-sex marriage bans, predominantly through the federal court systems set up in each state.

Up to March 1st the game of checkers quickly escalated into a sort of extreme dominos situation, with 37 states legalising gay marriage, as well as the District of Columbia and recognition by the federal government.

Yet this past week saw Alabama reduce this number, however temporarily, to 36.

In the same week President Obama gave a speech to remember 50 years since the Civil Rights groups marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama put itself once more on the antagonising side of social inequality in American history. Again the divide is comes from disagreements between state-versus-federal jurisdiction over Alabama’s governance, such as in the case of lower-level federal courts ruling on state-wide issues. Such as gay marriage.

When Judge Callie V. S. Granade of the United States District Court struck down the constitutional ban and ordered probate offices across the state to begin issuing marriage licences to all couples, activist groups petitioned the Supreme Court of Alabama to intervene.

Roy Moore
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

The Court’s Chief Justice Roy Moore argued against Judge Granade’s ruling, saying it didn’t apply to the probate judges because they were not named defendants in the suit. Since then probate judges have halted issuing licences to gay and lesbian couples.

The Supreme Court of the United States will be making it’s own decision on the subject of gay marriage come the summer. After being petitioned for many years, it is the case many on both sides have been waiting for. So any current outcomes in Alabama until then are mostly for show. Yet the danger comes from setting a precedent for future cases: does the federal court system have any place in a state’s decisions?

On Friday, advocate lawyers for same-sex marriage filed a motion for the federal court’s intervention once more to force probate judges to continue issuing licences. Coming only three days after the Supreme Court’s say, the decision could set in motion fights across the country where state legislators or activist groups disagree with federal involvement.

Gay marriage will more than likely to be upheld for all states when the US Supreme Court decides later this year. But real problems will continue to on within the process. Many state legislators across the nation have voiced their concern over the equated powers the judicial arm of US politics, a body not elected but appointed, carries in relation to the Executive and Legislative branches. This tension is exacerbated when rulings are focused onto specific states. Conservative states in particular, where relations with federal involvement are often more heated, could cause further problems in the future when progressive suits are argued before federal judges.

Further fractions between the progressive/conservative movements will only continue to polarise once June’s decision is announced. But in the meantime Alabama will no doubt continue to fight for her individualism, regardless of where their position may stand.


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