Why did the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges allow for same sex marriages? Why does a decision like that force States to allow things people there do not want? Prior to 2015, same sex marriages were not fundamentally recognized in the eyes of the law. In fact, Alabama passed a law known as the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, which codified marriage as an institution that only exists between a man and a woman. It is still located in Section 30-1-19 of the Alabama Code, and it states that marriage licenses between same sex couples will not be issued or recognized because they are invalid to the State of Alabama.
Then, in 2015, The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same sex couples have a fundamental right to marriage as well as the privileges and protections of marriage. While the right to same sex marriage is not expressly stated in the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court of the United States reasoned that the fundamental right is implied. It found that states were violating the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution by prohibiting same sex marriages, so it decided to require that every state must issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Accordingly, every state now has to acknowledge same sex marriages as valid, legal marriages.
The Supreme Court of the United States was able to require states to recognize same sex marriages, regardless of whether they wanted to or not, because of a clause included in the United States Constitution. The United States Constitution contains a clause, known as the Supremacy Clause, that states that federal law will preempt, or overrule, any state law that conflicts with any federal law because it is the supreme law of the land. The justification behind this is that federal law is a higher authority than state law, so it must be respected in the event that a law conflicts.
However, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision did not result in the immediate legalization of same sex marriages throughout the country. Some Alabama judges still refused to acknowledge and allow same sex couples to be legally married and directly ignored the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling. Some of these judges reasoned that they refused to recognize same sex marriages because they believed it went against their own personal religious beliefs, so they could not endorse the legality of same sex marriages.
To combat this, the Alabama State Legislature passed a new law that got rid of the State’s marriage license requirement. Instead of marriage licenses that have to be signed by a probate judge, marriages in Alabama are validated with marriage certificates. These marriage certificates make it easier for same sex couples to get married because, unlike marriage licenses, they do not require a judge’s signature as an endorsement. Alabama’s marriage certificates simply have to be completed, notarized, and filed with the Probate Court. Because of this, same sex marriages are now legally recognized throughout Alabama no matter what personal religious beliefs a Probate judge may have.
Attorney Steven A. Harris regularly blogs in the areas of family law, bankruptcy, and real estate closings on this website. He is always available in any of the firm’s offices or by phone anytime for a consultation. Mr. Harris tries to provide informative information to the public in easily digestible formats. Hopefully you enjoyed this article and feel free to supply any feedback. We appreciate our readers and love to hear from you!