MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's chief justice, who famously refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state judicial building, has urged probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples even though a federal judge ruled the state's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.
Roy Moore sent a letter to Alabama probate judges on Tuesday saying they are not bound by the ruling because they were not defendants in the lawsuit and have not been directly ordered to issue the licenses. He said the federal court did not have the authority to allow same-sex marriages.
"No federal judge, or court, should redefine marriage," Moore said in an interview Wednesday.
Moore said state courts, including probate courts, have the authority to interpret the U.S. Constitution independently, just like lower federal courts do, and the U.S. Supreme Court will resolve disputes over those interpretations.
The fiery Republican judge is no stranger to controversial remarks about homosexuality and the decisions of federal judges. Moore was removed as Alabama chief justice in 2003 after he refused to obey what he called an "unlawful" federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state judicial building. Moore in 2002 called homosexuality "an inherent evil" in ruling against a lesbian mother in a child custody case.
Moore, who was re-elected in 2012, said he sent the letter to offer advice to probate judges because of confusion over the federal ruling. However, a legal group that has clashed with Moore in the past says he is the one trying to incite chaos. And Moore's advice is contrary to that of the Alabama Probate Judges Association, which said last week that the decision is binding on the state's probate judges.
U.S. District Judge Callie Granade's order striking down the state's ban on gay marriage will go into effect Monday unless the U.S. Supreme Court grants Alabama's request for a delay. Gay couples are expected to apply for marriage licenses across Alabama that day.
Granade clarified her first order, saying the judges have a constitutional duty to issue the licenses. But she stopped short of ordering them to do so.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, the group that filed the complaint that led to Moore's ouster in 2003, filed a new judicial ethics complaint over his comments about the gay marriage ruling.
"Justice Moore is, I think, a dangerous person. He's created a crisis in the state before. He just seems hell-bent determined to do it again," said Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC.
Cohen said judges who refuse to issue licenses risk being sued and were being led into "very, very hot water by suggesting they ignore Judge Granade's order."
But Moore said it was his duty as head of the court system to try to help judges sort out the issues.
"I can't tell them how to think. I can't tell them how to interpret the Constitution. I can say that they are obliged to follow the Alabama Constitution and nothing prevents that," Moore said. "To disobey the Alabama Constitution would be to ignore the 81 percent of the people in this state that adopted the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment."