Fast forward to 2015:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Despite a federal judge’s rulings legalizing same-sex marriage, most probate judges in Alabama on Monday refused to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, escalating a legal showdown that echoed the battles over desegregation here in the 1960s.
Although court officials in some of the state’s largest cities — including Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery — quickly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, up to 52 of Alabama’s 67 counties, according to the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, declined to process the required paperwork.
It was unclear how many of the judges were acting out of overt defiance and how many were simply weighing how to navigate a freshly jumbled legal landscape after Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court on Sunday ordered the judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“We’ve got Alabama’s chief justice issuing an order, and we’ve got an order out from a federal judge,” said Judge Greg Norris of Monroe County, who is also president of the Alabama Probate Judges Association. “It’s just a very difficult situation.”
The day of escalating events began when the United States Supreme Court said it would not block the ruling by Judge Callie V. S. Granade of Federal District Court, who last month declared Alabama’s marriage restrictions to be unconstitutional.
To some, including Justice Clarence Thomas, who offered a spirited dissent, the failure to order a stay was the strongest signal to date that the court is likely to establish a nationwide right to same-sex marriage. “The court looks the other way as yet another federal district judge casts aside state laws without making any effort to preserve the status quo pending the court’s resolution of a constitutional question it left open in United States v. Windsor,” he wrote, referring to a 2013 decision.
“This acquiescence,” Justice Thomas added, “may well be seen as a signal of the court’s intended resolution of that question.”
Clarity was hard to come by in Alabama, however.
At the Jefferson County Courthouse here, Judge Michael G. Graffeo of Circuit Court officiated, at times tearfully, at the civil wedding of Dinah McCaryer and Olanda Smith, the first to emerge from the crowd of same-sex couples on Monday morning. “I now pronounce Olanda and Dinah are married spouses, entitled to all rights and privileges, as well as all responsibilities, afforded and placed upon them by the State of Alabama,” Judge Graffeo said.
On the other hand, in Florence, in the northwest corner of the state, Judge James Hall of probate court explained to Beth Ridley and Rose Roysden that he would not issue a license, saying, “I’m caught up in the middle of this.” The emotional couple said they would drive to Birmingham, and marry there.
At the center of the turmoil was Chief Justice Moore. On Sunday, less than 12 hours before many courthouses here were scheduled to open, he ordered Alabama’s probate judges not to comply with Judge Granade’s rulings, which he said were incompatible with the scope of her authority.
History Repeating Itself?