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February 10, 2015

Supreme Court action allows same-sex marriage in Alabama


The Supreme Court denied an appeal this week that would have stopped same-sex marriages in Alabama, allowing them to begin immediately.

Two of the nine Supreme Court Justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, dissented, arguing that the court was being dismissive of states that had passed laws against same-sex marriage.

Alabama banned same-sex marriage in 2006, but a federal court removed that ban in January. Alabama’s state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore then ordered courts to continue enforcing the ban while the decision went through an appeal.

Now, Alabama county offices are divided on whether to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At least 26 offices are doing so, while 41 county offices refuse to issue licenses, according to Joseph Smith, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Politics are playing into the decision whether or not to issue marriage licenses, since county judges are elected officials, he said.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia, but appeals in several states aim to stop it. The Supreme Court has said that it will rule on a same-sex marriage this summer.

Alabama’s support for same-sex marriage has grown in recent years; in 2004, 16 percent of people in the state were in favor, and that number jumped to 32 percent in 2012. This mirrors a nationwide trend; a majority of Americans (52 percent) are now in favor of same-sex marriage, as opposed to 35 percent in 2001, according to the Pew Research Center.

Warm up questions
  1. What does the Supreme Court do?
  2. What are some controversial issues that have been decided by the Supreme Court?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How do states that have legalized same-sex marriage differ from states that have not, geographically and politically? Are there any outliers?
  2. How does public opinion influence the way that laws are made?
  3. Two chief justices opposed the recent decision, saying it should be left up to the states. When should federal courts make decisions like this instead of individual states? Can you think of any other events in history when states and the federal government have disagreed?
  4. Do you think the Supreme Court will make same-sex marriage legal across the country? Why or why not?
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