THE BLOG

How Alabama Marriage Equality Got So Messy

02/16/2015 04:46 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Things are finally settling down in Alabama. We'll take a look at just how messy it got last week, and what happens now. Plus, Justice Ginsburg makes some pretty candid predictions for the Supreme Court's upcoming marriage decision.

Later this year is the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Fifty years ago, Alabama officials violently resisted calls for integration, and apparently, the state of Alabama is still figuring out this whole equality thing.

Last week saw a lot of back and forth on marriage, with some counties issuing licenses and others refusing. Couples had to wait in line for days at some courthouses just find out if they could get married. Now things are finally starting to stabilize. So, is marriage equality finally legal in Alabama? The answer is ... kind of.

Marriage was supposed to start on Monday. There's really no valid legal reason why it couldn't. So Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore got creative, and found a not-quite-legally-sound way to, if not stop marriage, at least confuse everyone and delay it. He told all of the judges in the state that they weren't allowed to let gay and lesbian couples marry, and if they did, they'd be punished. Somehow.

So that's why the state was in a mess all last week. Some judges went ahead and issued licenses anyway. They weren't punished. Others turned away gay and lesbian couples. And almost a third of the state's counties just stopped issuing licenses to all couples, gay and straight, which was just a pain in the neck for everyone.

Then late in the week, District Court Judge Callie Granade issued a new ruling that basically boiled down to, "everybody stop messing around." She ruled that judges have to issue those licenses, and now pretty much everyone is complying.

But we're still not out of the woods yet. The Alabama case is still on appeal, so the pro-equality ruling could still potentially be reversed. And don't forget, Judge Moore has demonstrated that he's willing to bend the law to get his way, so he might still have some surprises in store. He might even try to defy the US Supreme Court when they rule on the issue in a few months.

Speaking of which, it's looking better and better for a pro-equality ruling this spring. The US Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 last week that marriage can begin in Alabama. Scalia and Thomas were the only ones who dissented. This might mean that the other 7 justices have already made up their mind that marriage should start.

And in an interview last week, Justice Ginsburg said that the country is ready for marriage equality. "I think it's doubtful that it wouldn't be accepted," she said. "The change in people's attitude has been enormous."

Finally, let's take a moment to appreciate District Court Judge Callie Granade, who issued the ruling that Alabama's marriage ban is unconstitutional. And then had to issue follow-up rulings to state officials, saying, in essence, "yes, this means you." Her grandfather was Fifth Circuit Judge Richard Rives. In 1956, Rives wrote the decision in a case that found segregated busing to be unconstitutional. Social justice just runs in their family.