This case, seeking to require the Alabama to permit same-sex marriages, was originally filed pro se by James Strawser and John Humphrey. The State filed a motion to dismiss and the plaintiffs sought a preliminary and permanent injunction.
A separate Southern District case, Searcy v. Strange, involved a couple married in California. Searcy wanted to adopt her wife’s biological son which would be virtually automatic if Alabama recognized their marriage. But because of the constitutional provision and the statute, the attempt to adopt was denied. The couple filed a federal action. On January 23, 2015, S.D. Ala. Judge Callie V.S. Granade found that the State’s provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional because they violate they Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. She enjoined the Attorney General from enforcing those laws. The AG promptly sought a stay pending appeal and filed his notice of appeal to the Eleventh Circuit.
On January 25, although finding that a stay was not warranted under existing law, the Court entered a 14 day stay to expire on February 9, to allow the AG to seek a stay from the Eleventh Circuit. Subsequently, on January 26, Judge Granade, adopting her findings in Searcy, granted Strawser’s motion for a preliminary injunction and enjoined the Attorney General from enforcing the marriage laws of Alabama which prohibit same-sex marriage. Based upon the stay entered in Searcy, she stayed her order, also until February 9. The AG promptly filed a notice of appeal.
The AG’s request for a stay pending the appeals was denied on February 3,. On appeal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (“NCLR”) entered an appearance for the plaintiffs in Strawser.
The AG then sought a stay at the U.S. Supreme Court pending its disposition of the four Sixth Circuit cases for which it had granted review (all upheld bans on same-sex marriage). On February 9, the Supreme Court, over the dissent of Justices Thomas and Scalia, denied the motion for a stay. Strange v. Searcy, 135 S. Ct. 940 (U.S. Feb. 9, 2015). Thus, same-sex marriages began in Alabama on February 9, 2015.
Late in the day on Sunday, February 8, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore issued and “Administrative Order” purporting to compel probate court judges to continue to follow the Alabama laws that had been declared unconstitutional by Judge Granade. Fewer than ten probate court judges ignored the order and began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Mobile County Probate Judge Davis sought guidance by the Alabama Supreme Court but his was denied as a request for an advisory opinion. See Ex parte Davis, --- So.3d ----, 2015 WL 567479 (Ala. Feb. 11, 2015).
By the afternoon of February 9, we had several couples in Mobile who wanted to get married but the Mobile County Probate Court office remained closed and was not issuing any licenses. We joined NCLR as co-counsel (SPLC and Americans United subsequently joined as co-counsel) and filed an Emergency Motion to File an Amended Complaint and for Injunctive Relief against Probate Court Judge Davis. On February 10, Judge Granade granted the filing of the amended complaint and set a hearing on the motion for injunctive relief for Thursday, February 12. Following the hearing, Judge Granade granted the motion and entered a preliminary injunction against Probate Court Judge Davis. Strawser v. Strange, 44 F.Supp.3d 1206 (S.D. Ala. 2015). By the close of business on Friday, February 13, approximately 50 of Alabama’s counties were issuing same-sex marriage licenses with a few more to begin the next week.
Meanwhile, on February 11, two private advocacy organizations filed an action in the Alabama Supreme Court seeking “mandamus relief in the name of the State” against all Alabama probate judges to order them to comply with the Alabama marriage laws which had been declared unconstitutional. Ex parte State ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program v. King. On February 13, over the dissent of two Justices, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered the respondent probate court judges to “file answers and, if they choose to do so, briefs, addressing issues raised by the petition,” by February 18, and gave the petitioners until February 20 to respond.
Consequently, on February 17, we filed an Emergency Motion for Enforcement of the Injunction, arguing that under Alabama law, the Attorney General had the absolute right to step into any litigation in the name of the State of Alabama and dismiss the litigation, even over the objection of those who filed it. We sought an order from Judge Granade to compel the AG to take that action, arguing that his failure to act in and of itself violated the preliminary injunction. At the same time, Jefferson County Probate Court Judge King filed a motion to intervene, followed by a motion for preliminary injunction seeking the same relieve that we sought in our Emergency Motion. Unfortunately, she denied both motions on February 20.
On March 3, the Alabama Supreme Court granted the petition and issued a temporary restraining order to all probate court judges to cease issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Ex parte State ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute, 200 So.3d 495 (Ala. 2015). It subsequently entered the writ. Id. Davis then sought to stay the order against him in federal court which Judge Granade denied.
We then filed a Second Amended Complaint pleading both a plaintiff class and a defendant class (of all probate court judges) and will seek statewide relief. The Court granted leave to amend on March 18 and the motion to certify the classes along with the motion for preliminary injunction have been fully briefed.
The Attorney General and the probate court judge defendants each filed a motion to dismiss. The Court denied their motions. Strawser v. Strange, 100 F.Supp.3d 1285 (S.D. Ala. 2015) (Attorney General); Strawser v. Strange, 100 F.Supp.3d 1276 (S.D. Ala. 2015) (probate court judges). The Court then denied the Baldwin County Probate Judge’s motion for reconsideration. Id.
The Court subsequently granted class certification (both a plaintiff class and a defendant class), Strawser v. Strange, 307 F.R.D. 604 (S.D. Ala. 2015), and granted a state-wide preliminary injunction. Strawser v. Strange, 105 F.Supp.3d 1323 (S.D. Ala. 2015). However, she stayed the injunction pending the outcome of the cases at the Supreme Court. Defendant Russell then appealed both the preliminary injunction and the class certification to the Eleventh Circuit. That Court stayed consideration of the appeals pending the Supreme Court’s decision.
Shortly after the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, several probate court judges began issuing same-sex marriage licenses again. We sought, and obtained, an order from Judge Granade stating that the stay had been lifted and that the probate court judge class was bound by the preliminary injunction. The great majority of judges then came into compliance with nine counties not issuing any licenses at all.
The Eleventh Circuit then dismissed the appeal of the class certification and summarily affirmed the preliminary injunction against the probate court judges.
On January 6, 2016, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore issued an Administrative Order claiming that until the Alabama Supreme Court acts, the mandamus order issued in Alabama Policy Institute remains in effect and ordered the probate court judges to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While we filed the Order as supplemental authority of the need for a permanent injunction and final judgment, no Alabama probate court judge has heeded the Administrative Order. On June 7, the Court granted a permanent injunction against the probate court judge class and declaratory relief. Strawser v. Strange, --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2016 WL 3199523 (S.D. Ala. June 7, 2016). We filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment to enter a permanent injunction against the Attorney General also. The Court granted the motion and enjoined the AG, 2016 WL 4443181 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 22, 2016).
We negotiated a settlement of fees and costs and the case has been dismissed.