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Alabama chief justice Roy Moore orders halt to same-sex marriage licences

Winston-Salem:  The chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court has ordered the state's probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite a ruling by the US Supreme Court last year legalising gay marriage.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Wednesday rests his hands on his order discouraging probate judges from issuing same ...
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Wednesday rests his hands on his order discouraging probate judges from issuing same sex marriage licences. Photo: AP

Gay marriage activists and legal experts assailed the order, arguing last June's landmark US Supreme Court decision afforded same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states.

Chief Justice Roy Moore, who issued the order on Wednesday, said judges were bound by the state Supreme Court's decision last March halting same-sex marriage until that court determines the effect on the state of the national ruling.

Tori Sisson, left, and Shante Wolfe kiss after saying their marriage vows in Montgomery, Alabama in February, 2015. ...
Tori Sisson, left, and Shante Wolfe kiss after saying their marriage vows in Montgomery, Alabama in February, 2015. Sisson and Wolfe were the first same-sex couple in the state to file their marriage licence.  Photo: AP

A federal judge in Alabama overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage last January.

"There is a great confusion out there as to what orders to obey", Justice Moore said. "I'm not causing the confusion, I'm trying to clarify it".

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Many probate judges were issuing marriage licences to gay and lesbian couples while others had refused, he said.

One probate judge, Steven Reed in Montgomery, Alabama, said his office would not heed the administrative order. "Judge Moore's latest charade is just sad & pathetic," Justice Reed posted on Twitter.

But the Mobile County probate court said on its website that it would stop issuing marriage licences to any applicants gay or straight until further notice "to ensure full compliance with all court rulings".

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which has an ongoing ethics complaint against Justice Moore, said he should be removed from the bench for telling the state's judges to enforce Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage.

"It's a disgrace to his office that he occupies it," said Richard Cohen, president of the Alabama-based law centre. Mr Cohen said judges who followed Justice Moore's order risked being held in contempt of court for violating the federal judge's ruling.

In Kentucky last year, County Clerk Kim Davis was jailed for five days after refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples despite the US Supreme Court ruling, making her a focal point in the US gay marriage debate.

Justice Moore, a Republican, has been a hero of conservative causes before. In 2003, he was removed from office after a federal judge ruled he was placing himself above the law by refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument.

He won the chief justice job back in a 2012 election, vowing not to do anything to create further friction with the federal courts.

Reuters