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Alabama's stand against same-sex marriage had seemed to be crumbling under federal court pressure, but it regained ground Wednesday after the state's highest court ruled that its ban on issuing licenses to gays and lesbians remains legal, despite federal court decisions to the contrary.
The Alabama Supreme Court ordered county probate judges to uphold the state ban pending a final ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears arguments in April on whether gay couples nationwide have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions.
Stuck between the state's highest court and a series of federal rulings, many probate judges were at a loss. At least one office — in Mobile County, one of the state's largest —quit issuing licenses altogether. "We regret having to take this action, but feel that it is necessary given the unprecedented circumstances that currently exist," read that announcement.
And Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed, one of the first Alabama judges to issue licenses to same-sex couples, said it gives him no choice but to turn gays and lesbians away in the state capital.
"As a named party in continuing litigation on this matter, I am bound by this order from the state's highest court, whether I agree with it or not," Reed said in a statement.
It was unclear what most other judges would do after the all-Republican court sided with a pair of conservative groups and ordered Alabama's 68 probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. The state justices said U.S. District Judge Callie Granade in Mobile, who ruled the ban unconstitutional, does not get the last word in Alabama.