UPDATE Monday 12:11 p.m. Judge Granade has delayed her ruling for fourteen days to allow the state to seek a longer delay from the Eleventh Circuit Court.
The still-lengthening list of court decisions nullifying state bans on same-sex marriage added another Deep South state on Friday as a federal judge in Mobile struck down Alabama’s laws against such unions. U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade acted in a case filed by a same-sex couple married in California and seeking official recognition of their marital status.
The judge did not delay her ruling, ordering state officials immediately to stop enforcing a state constitutional amendment and a state law that limit marriage or marriage recognition to unions between one man and one woman. If the decision is not blocked during an appeal, it would make Alabama the thirty-seventh state permitting same-sex marriage. (UPDATE: Lawyers for the state promptly asked the judge to delay her ruling while they pursue an appeal.)
Marriage is now allowed in only one other state in the southern-most region of the U.S. — Florida — but bans in all of those states remain under court challenge. Two federal appeals courts in the region are weighing cases on the issue — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in cases from three states, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in a Florida case.
Some federal courts around the country have started putting same-sex marriage cases before them on hold, because the Supreme Court agreed this month to rule on the constitutionality of bans on marriage and marriage recognition. Judge Granade in Mobile decided not to wait.
Although she noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has issued the decision the Supreme Court is reviewing — upholding bans in four states, the Alabama jurist decided that the stronger arguments had been made by four other federal appeals courts (whose decisions against state bans have been left intact by the Supreme Court).
She found the Alabama ban violates both the guarantee of legal equality and the promise of due process of law under the federal Constitution. Because of those conclusions, the judge chose not to rule on a separate claim that the state’s failure to officially recognize an out-of-state marriage violated the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause.
Meanwhile, in a state that borders on Alabama, state lawyers in Arkansas asked that state’s Supreme Court to hold a new hearing on the validity of the ban there, under the state constitution. That tribunal had held a hearing on the issue on November 20, but has not yet ruled. In the meantime, three of the state court’s seven members who heard the case have been replaced, so state officials are now seeking a new review by that court.
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s review will go forward on the issue under the federal Constitution, the state’s lawyers pointed out, the Justices will not be ruling on whether a ban violates any state constitution.