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Same-sex marriage fight loses the State more than $300,000

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY — State officials’ fight to keep marriage equality from coming to Alabama has culminated in a $300,000 bill for taxpayers — with little to show for it.

Last month, the Attorney General’s office agreed to pay a total of $315,000 to attorneys representing a gay couple in the case of Strawser v. Strange. US District Judge Callie Granade issued an order on Jan. 20, in accordance with the negotiated resolution.

The payment has to be made within 60 days.

Strawser v. Strange came to an end in June 2016 when Granade issued a permanent injunction, which permanently barred the State from enforcing its marriage ban.

The injunction was an effort to settle the debate over same-sex marriage licensing in Alabama that ensued after numerous conflicting opinions from Granade, the US Supreme Court and the Alabama Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roy Moore.

The legal battle resulted in numerous lawsuits and lasted from 2014 until June 2016.

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“Alabama’s resistance to marriage equality did nothing but increase the amount of the legal fees,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which served as a counsel in the case. “It’s unfortunate that taxpayers must now foot the bill.”

Granade’s order required the AG and all probate judges to put the State’s same-sex marriage ban to rest. Probate judges were ordered to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples and recognize the same-sex marriages of couples from other states.

Judge Granade first ruled Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional in January 2015 and forbade Strange from enforcing the ban. Following Granade’s ruling, Moore issued a memorandum ordering the State’s probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

After Moore’s memorandum, the plaintiffs in Strawser v. Strange, James Strawser and John Humphrey, filed an emergency motion with Granade’s Court asking her to require the Mobile County Probate Judge to issue them a marriage license. After the motion was filed, the Alabama Supreme Court countered, barring probate judges from issuing the licenses.

In May 2015, Granade ruled with the LGBT plaintiffs and granted their motions, ordering probate judges to issue same-sex marriage licenses; however, she stayed the ruling pending a decision from the US Supreme Court.

In June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Following the high court’s ruling, Granade ordered the State’s probate judges to comply with their ruling.

Nevertheless, officials in Alabama kept resisting.

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Strange’s office asked for the case to be dismissed in October 2015 before a final injunction could be ordered to prevent any further refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Strange’s office at the time said there was no need for a final injunction because the case had been settled with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

But several months later on Jan. 6, 2016, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore issued an administrative order to the probate judges, directing them to defy the US Supreme Court. In the order, Moore wrote that “probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage licenses [to same-sex couples].”

The order later became the subject of a Judicial Inquiry Commission complaint and an ethics trial for Moore before the Court of the Judiciary. The judges of the Court of the Judiciary ruled Moore violated the Canons of Judicial Ethics and suspended him for the remainder of his term.

Moore is currently appealing that decision.

Granade also previously ordered Strange’s office to pay $126,206 to the plaintiffs in the other landmark Alabama same-sex marriage case Searcy v. Strange. The legal battles, which have cost the State more than just the $400,000 in legal fees, still resulted in marriage equality for Alabama.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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