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Alabama Chief Justice: Federal Courts Don't Hold Sway On Marriage

Robert Bate of Birmingham holds signs endorsing same-sex marriage outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Ala., Monday. On Tuesday, the chief justice of the state's Supreme Court said federal courts are overstepping their jurisdiction in deciding cases about the issue.

Days after a federal judge in Alabama ruled in favor of a same-sex couple who want their marriage recognized, the chief justice of the state's Supreme Court has sent a letter telling the governor that federal courts don't have jurisdiction over what constitutes a marriage in Alabama.

Chief Justice Roy Moore said that Friday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade "has raised serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment."

Over the weekend, Granade placed a two-week hold on her decision that had given a victory to Cari Searcy and Kim McKeand, of Mobile, Ala., who were married in California and who are raising a son together.

The delay was created to allow time for the state's appeal, which was filed by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange Monday. But on the same day, Granade ruled in favor of another gay couple, James Strawser and John Humphrey, who had filed their federal lawsuit without retaining a lawyer.

"I am just ecstatically pleased. We didn't realize it would be so soon and did not even think she would consider it," Humphrey told local news site AL.com. "This is the Bible Belt for Christ sake."

The Alabama ruling had been seen as another case of same-sex marriage suddenly becoming legal in a state that had forbidden such unions. But as member station WBHM reports, same-sex couples were turned away from courthouses where they had sought marriage licenses in at least two counties Monday.

Gay couples who want to marry in Alabama will now have to wait until at least Feb. 9 — and possibly longer, as the Supreme Court has said it will decide the issue, possibly in late June.

Today's letter to Gov. Robert Bentley was written by Moore, who has previously made headlines as the "Ten Commandments Judge" who was removed from office in 2003 over his refusal to remove a monument to the commandments. Moore recently Moore won back his chief justice seat.

In one portion of his letter to the governor, Moore writes, "As you know, nothing in the United States Constitution grants the federal government the authority to redefine the institution of marriage," noting that Alabama's Constitution defines marriage as being a covenant "between a man and a woman."

Moore ends his letter by telling Bentley, "Be advised that I stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority."

In addition to the court battle, the heated controversy over same-sex marriage could bring another, unexpected, set of consequences.

As member station WBHM reports:

"Meanwhile Alabama's only openly gay lawmaker, Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) threatened to 'out' legislators having extramarital affairs in response to some Republican lawmakers who were critical of the ruling overturning the gay marriage ban."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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