State-court judges throw down gauntlet in same-sex marriage ruling

Tumultuous.

That’s how we termed the state of affairs regarding the legality of same-sex marriage across the country in a recent blog post (please see our January 28 entry).

Some people might have reasonably expected that a bit of calmness and clarity would have emerged since that date regarding this hot-button subject, especially with the United States Supreme Court slated to hear a case and issue a definitive ruling on the matter later this year. It is widely believed that the nation’s highest judicial tribunal will legalize same-sex unions, thus aligning state laws that presently provide for different outcomes.

We noted in the above-cited post that Georgia joins Alabama and a few other states that continue to disallow same-sex marriage.

The seminal topic of gay marriage took a notable — some constitutional law scholars would likely say dramatic — turn earlier this week, with the Alabama Supreme Court issuing a ruling that openly challenged an earlier federal court pronouncement on gay marriage in that state.

Earlier this year, a federal court ruled Alabama’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. The matter quickly wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court, which opted not to stay (hold in abeyance) the lower ruling pending its own ruling on the issue. In effect, that announcement was an order for gay marriages to proceed in Alabama.

That state’s high-court ruling in response was flatly unexpected, with state justices defying the lower federal court’s earlier decision. As noted in a media article discussing the ruling, the court “declared itself equally empowered as the lower federal courts to decide whether [Alabama’s ban] violates the Constitution.”

That pronouncement is certainly singular for a state court, given the longstanding understanding that federal courts have the final say on constitutional matters.

As one commentator on the case noted following the Alabama court’s ruling, ” Whenever state law conflicts with federal law, federal law wins.”

That obviously didn’t happen earlier this week. What did develop was a state/federal standoff that might now remain unresolved until the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in with a ruling sometime later this year.

Source: The Washington Post, “In defiant ruling, Alabama Supreme Court stops same-sex marriage in state,” Fred Barbash, March 4, 2015

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