(CN) - The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered probate judges across the state to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in direct defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June to legalize such unions.
The four-page order issued by Chief Justice Roy Moore on Wednesday afternoon directs the state's probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the state's highest court decides a pending case that centers on the issue.
On June 29, 2015, three days after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, effectively legalizing same-sex marriages in all 50 states, Moore invited interested parties in Alabama to submit briefs on the question of how Obergefell would affect state policy and prior decisions on the issue by the state's highest court.
Then, on Sept. 16, 2015, Nick Williams, the probate judge for Washington County, Ala., filed an "Emergency Petition for Declaratory Judgment and/or Protective Order in light of the Jailing of Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis," which requested the Ala. Supreme Court prevent the imprisonment "and ruin" of probate judges "who maintain fidelity to their oath of office and their faith."
On October 5, John Enslen, the probate judge for Elmore County, Ala., filed a separate petition seeking similar relief.
In the order he issued Wednesday, Moore claims because a decision on those petitions is pending, "confusion and uncertainty" has been created in regard to what probate judges should do in regard to same-sex marriage license requests.
"I am not at liberty to provide any guidance to Alabama probate judges on the effect of Obergefell on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court," Moore wrote. "That issue remains before the entire court which continues to deliberate on the matter."
Nevertheless, the chief judge said, "This disparity affects the administration of justice in this state."
In a statement, Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, said Moore is obstructing same-sex couples' constitutionally guaranteed access to marriage.
"This is just more of his shenanigans," Warbelow said. "IT's about him and his personal beliefs ... rather than carrying out the rule of law."
Joyce White Vance, U.S. attorney for the Northern District District of Alabama issued a statement that said her office has "grave concerns" about Moore's order.
"Government officials are free to disagree with the law, but not to disobey it. This issue has been decided by the highest court in the land and Alabama must follow that law," Vance said.
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