Alabama Supreme Court request probate judges responses

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Alabama Supreme Court is asking for input from probate judges as it considers a motion to clarify the legality of same-sex marriages in the state.

The Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program filed an emergency petition last week asking the court to reinforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriages still in effect despite a January ruling by Judge Callie “Ginny” Granade that said the ban was unconstitutional.

“Her (Judge Granade’s) order has caused a great deal of confusion, and judges don’t know what to do,” said Eric Johnston, attorney for API and ALCAP.

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In the wake of the first ruling, probate judges questioned if the ruling applied statewide or to the specific case argued in Granade’s court. A subsequent ruling last week directed the Mobile County probate judge to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Probate judges across the state continue to interpret the rulings differently, and as of Friday only about 50 of the state’s 67 probate judges were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen has removed his office from the marriage business, saying state law directs only that probate judges “may” issue marriage licenses but does not require them to do so.

Allen said his office would not be issuing a statement concerning last week’s ruling. “I am not named in that, so no reason for a statement,” Allen said.

Allen also said he did not intend to submit a response to the API/ALCAP petition.

Justices asked probate judges’ to submit responses to the petition. Currently, Alan King, Jefferson County probate judge, and Steven L. Reed, Montgomery probate judge, have responded.

While not all probate judges are required to submit a response, any ruling in this petition would apply to all probate judges.

The only court whose ruling could toss out one issued by Alabama’s Supreme Court would be the U.S. Supreme Court, which is set to begin hearing arguments concerning same-sex couples and whether they should be afforded the same rights to marry as same-sex couples in April.

The court’s ruling is expected in June, and Johnston said API and ALCAP were hiping to reach “status quo” in Alabama well before that time.

“Our position is not really adversarial with the (probate) judges,” Johnston said. “We want the (Alabama) Supreme Court to say what we are going to do in Alabama until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling in June … we just want status quo.”