February 3, 2015 at 11:27 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Eleventh Circuit won’t halt Alabama same-sex marriages
same-sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

A federal appeals court won’t halt Alabama same-sex marriages.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday declined the opportunity to place a hold on same-sex marriages in Alabama, which are expected to begin Feb. 9 as a result of a district judge’s rulings against the state’s prohibition on gay nuptials.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order denying the request of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to stay the decisions against the state’s marriage ban by U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade.

“The Attorney General of the State of Alabama’s motions for a stay pending appeal are DENIED,” the order states.

The three-judge panel that issued the order consists of U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjofat, a Ford appointee; U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Hull, a Clinton appointee; and U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, another Clinton appointee.

In addition to Strange, the Alabama Probate Judges Association and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley had filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the attorney general’s request for a prolonged stay. The Eleventh Circuit indicates judges have accepted the briefs, but nonetheless decided to deny the stay.

The denial of the stay from the Eleventh Circuit was widely expected. In December, the court rejected a similar request from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to stay a decision in favor of marriage equality in Florida. That set up the path for same-sex marriage to come to the state Jan. 6.

Alabama still has another avenue to stop same-sex marriage from taking place in the state as the litigation proceeds on appeal: The U.S. Supreme Court. Strange can file another stay request with U.S. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who can decide the matter himself or refer the matter to the entire court.

But such a request would likely be met with the same response the Eleventh Circuit delivered. When Bondi sought a stay on Florida same-sex marriage from Thomas in December, the justice referred the matter to the full bench, which denied her request. The Supreme Court has also refused stay decisions in favor of same-sex marriage in states like Kansas, South Carolina, Alaska and Idaho.

Granade had ruled against Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage in two separate decisions. On Jan. 23, the Bush-appointed judge struck down the ban as a result of a lawsuit filed by private attorneys on behalf of Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, a couple seeking second-parent adoption rights for their child. On Jan. 27, Granade ruled against Alabama’s prohibition on gay nuptials a second time as a result of a lawsuit filed by James Strawser and John Humphrey, a Mobile, Ala., couple who were denied a marriage license.

The judge stayed her first decision until Feb. 9 in a subsequent order issued days later, and stayed her second decision until Feb. 9 within the ruling.

Shortly after the Eleventh Circuit order was handed down on Tuesday, plaintiffs and the state sparred at the trial court level over whether the existing stay should be lifted before Feb. 9.

In a brief two-page order, Granade ultimately determined the temporary hold on her rulings should remain in place to give Alabama time to prepare for same-sex marriage.

“Plaintiffs motion for an immediately lift of the stay is denied,” Granade writes. “If the Supreme Court denies a stay or does not rule before February 9, 2015, this court’s stay will still remain in place to allow the Probate Courts of this state to be completely prepared for compliance with the rulings in this case and the Strawser case.”

Attorneys for Searcy and McKeand had sought to lift the hold on same-sex marriage in Alabama on the basis that after the Eleventh Circuit order “there is no reason for this Court’s stay to remain in place.” But Strange objected to removing the stay, saying he intends seek a stay from the Supreme Court “to avoid further confusion” as a result of the decisions.

h/t Equality Case Files

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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