What does Dred Scott have to do with the Alabama gay marriage mess? Absolutely nothing.
This summer, the Supreme Court will again take up the issue of the Constitutionality of state gay marriage bans, having left the question open (why, I don’t know) after striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Since that ruling, the states have been busy little bees, some passing laws banning same-sex marriage, some doing the opposite, then fighting out multiple appeals at various levels of the judicial system. Three things are certain: the cultural and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage looks unstoppable; all states need to agree on what a legal marriage is; and some faith-based same-sex marriage opponents will not give in until the last dog dies.
Beginning at the end of last week, a messy situation in Alabama involving all of these factors burst into a full-fledged ethics train wreck. The links in this post will let you immerse yourself in the mess if you choose: I’m going to try to be clear. Here is what has transpired so far:
1) A federal judge, District Court Judge Callie V. Granade, struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages in January and said that Alabama could start issuing licenses last week unless the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stayed her order. A stay was immediately requested by the Alabama Attorney General, who properly defended the state’s law.
2.) The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to step in and stop her order from going into effect.
3) The U.S. Supreme Court also refused the stay request, allowing marriages to proceed in Alabama.
4) Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, reminded everyone that probate judges report to him, not the federal judge and not the Attorney General, and do not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples until he tells them to. He told them not to.
5) Some Alabama probate judges followed Moore, and some went ahead and issued the licenses. Mass confusion reigned.
6) Meanwhile, the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay pending its ruling on state same-sex marriage laws later this year was widely interpreted as tantamount to SCOTUS deciding the case before it was even argued.
7) Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the majority’s rejection of the stay (we don’t know what the vote break was), argued that “This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our . . . responsibilities.”
8) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, meanwhile, appeared to endorse gay marriage in an interview.
9) Attempting to break the impasse, U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade ordered Mobile County, Alabama to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, paving the way for resistant officials across the state to follow suit, in a decision stating that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage had been struck down and that Mobile County’s probate judge had to adhere to that decision.
10) Chief Justice Moore remains unmoved, but now most of the probate judges are following the federal order.
Good, now you can explain it to me.
What a mess.
Here are the ethics verdicts on the participants so far: Continue reading