What many consider justice and victory in the terms of equal rights came to be in June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages. Many celebrated while just as many became angered. Kim Davis, County Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky defied the SCOTUS decision by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore made a shocking announcement in early January 2016 when he stated that Alabama probate judges have a “ministerial duty to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”
The state of Alabama is widely known for being a conservative state. U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade found the state of Alabama to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution when it came to the issue of same-sex marriages. A same-sex marriage ban existed in the Alabama state constitution, under the section “The Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.” Granade found the addendum to be unconstitutional, and the law was struck down in January 2015.
Moore is no newcomer to controversy. He is the same judge that had a statue featuring the Ten Commandments at an Alabama courthouse in 2011. The January 6 announcement received immediate backlash from advocacy groups throughout the state and across the nation. Moore took to the media the following day.
“The probate judges are still bound by state law,” Moore stated. “The Alabama Supreme Court ruled last March 3 that probate judges were not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The state court hasn’t decided what to do since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Some counties have only issued heterosexual marriage licenses. Some judges have issue same-sex marriage licenses and some judges have flat-out refused to issue any marriage licenses at all.”
Moore insisted that he has not attempted to defy the U.S. Supreme Court orders, but instead attempted to clarify them. An outcry from advocacy groups across the nation was heard. The president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen, noted that this was not the first time Moore defied the law. “Roy Moore was booted from office in 2003 after he defied an order made by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Cohen said. “Now he wants 68 other judges to follow suit. He needs to be removed from office – again.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed an ethics complaint regarding Moore in 2015. The group did not hesitate to file a supplement to that complaint following Moore’s January 6 announcement. Jenny Garrett, Executive Director of Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, was limited by law on what she could say regarding the case. Garrett did, however, make a point to state that any judge found to be in violations of ethics codes would face potential sanctions. The two counties that stopped issuing all marriage licenses on January 6 returned to issuing the permits the next day, following Moore’s so-called clarification.