Finally, Anti-Gay Marriage Judge Is Suspended

by Seth Millstein

The long-running saga of Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who refused to permit gay marriages in his state despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring him to do so, appears to have reached an end. Moore was suspended for the rest of his term for defying SCOTUS on gay marriage. Here’s what happened, and why it took so long.

It was a long and winding journey that led to Moore’s suspension. When he announced in 2015 that, as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he simply wouldn’t allow marriage licences to be issued to same-sex couples, regardless of what the Supreme Court said, many wondered why this didn’t lead to his immediate removal from the bench. The short answer is that this controversy involved several intertwining lawsuits and complaints, and they hadn’t all made their way through the courts until now.

Moore’s crusade against marriage equality began in January 2015, when a federal judge ruled that Alabama’s anti-gay marriage law was unconstitutional, thus clearing the way for gay marriage in the state. But Moore, a staunch opponent of marriage equality, told Alabama probate judges that they didn’t need to abide by this ruling, and in March, he officially ordered judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

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Three months later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all gay marriage bans in the country in its sweeping Obergefell v. Hodges decision. But Moore stuck to his guns, and made public comments implying — though not explicitly stating — that probate judges in the state shouldn’t abide by the ruling.

In July, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an ethics complaint against Moore. (This wasn’t the first time it had done so.) Moore countered by issuing an administrative order clarifying that state judges should not issue same-sex marriage certificates, and the SPLC filed a supplemental ethics complaint against that decision as well.

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission heard those complaints, and in May 2016, it temporarily suspended Moore from the bench so that the Alabama Court of the Judiciary could hear the case against him.

Finally, on Friday, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary issued its ruling on the case, ordering that Moore be suspended (though not removed) without pay until the end of his term in 2019. By that point, Moore will be 69, making him ineligible by state law to run for chief justice again, so this suspension effectively ends his judicial career.

There’s one more loose end. Moore’s legal team says that he’ll be appealing the decision, and that appeal will go to the Alabama Supreme Court, of which Moore — despite his suspension — is still officially chief justice. Does that mean Moore will be ruling on the merits of his own suspension? Thankfully, no. In its ruling Friday, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary made clear that Moore’s suspension is “effective immediately.” So if the Alabama Supreme Court does take up the appeal, it’ll rule on it without Moore on the bench. Which is for the best.

The takeaway here is rather simple. You can’t defy an unambiguous ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court just because you personally disagree with it. You can stall for time, as Moore did, but the point of the Supreme Court is to settle matters once and for all. Marriage equality is the law of the land, full stop, and all Moore has to show for trying to reject this reality is a cessation of his paychecks and a premature end to his judicial career.