MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Christian Examiner) – The Alabama Supreme Court has halted the issuance of licenses to same-sex couples, ruling in favor of an emergency petition filed by the Baptist-run Alabama Citizens Action Program and joined by the Alabama Policy Institute as well as John E. Enslen, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Elmore County.
In a Tuesday decision, the state court found that "Alabama's probate judges have a ministerial duty to follow Alabama law limiting marriage to a union of one man and one woman," saying also that for "the entirety of its history, Alabama has chosen the traditional definition of marriage."
The state court finding was in direct contravention of U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade who on Jan. 22 struck down Alabama's voter-approved (81 percent) "Sanctity of Marriage" constitutional amendment prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages or civil unions. It also defies her subsequent order on Feb. 12 ordering Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis to issue marriage licenses to four same-sex couples, despite guidance from State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore that no probate judge should do so.
Granade, in her original ruling, wrote that marriage laws in Alabama "are an irrational way of promoting biological relationships in Alabama."
The Alabama Supreme Court, however, relied on historical findings by the U.S. Supreme Court that no law could be "more wholesome and necessary in the founding of a free, self-governing commonwealth" than that "which seeks to establish it on the basis of the idea of the family" consisting of a union for life "of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony."
The opinion also cited the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, which set off a spate of federal court actions overturning state bans on same-sex marriage, in Windsor v. United States, and the U.S. Constitution, saying "the Windsor Court noted, '[b]y history and tradition,' and one should add, by the text of the Constitution, 'the definition and regulation of marriage ... has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States.'"
The state judges concluded "That fact does not change simply because the new definition of marriage has gained ascendancy in certain quarters of the country, even if one of those quarters is the federal judiciary."
Consequently, they ruled Alabama law allows marriage only "between one man and one woman" and ruled probate judges are to follow state laws and so must stop issuing licenses to gay couples, and, the justices asked Judge Davis to explain "whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue" by Granade.
Reactions from Alabama Baptists was strong.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, issued a joint statement with Travis Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Prattville and president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, saying they affirm the action "to restore biblical marraige to its rightful place of sole authenticity and legality in Alabama."
Moreover, they applauded the Alabama Conservative Action Program as a ministry partner for taking "its strong stand for biblical marriage" in pursuing the petition with the Alabama Supreme Court.
"We continue to pray for local, state and federal officials -- in all three branches of government -- who will make decisions in the months to come about this issue. We continue to pray that any actions and rulings will affirm biblical marriage as the only legally sanctioned form."
Seven justices joined the decision (one concurred in part with the opinion but endorsed the result) and one dissented. Chief Justice Roy Moore did not participate in the decision.