What happens in Vegas doesn’t really stay there. Particularly not if you swing by one of those wedding chapels for a quickie ceremony. A Vegas marriage is just as legally enforceable in all fifty states as any other (assuming it wasn’t like rape, entered without one’s lucid, sober consent). So the adage isn’t necessarily true. What happens in Vegas may well come home with you.
Alabama’s gay community is in a state of confusion. (See the New York Times article). Some probate courts (there is one in each of its 67 counties) are issuing marriage licenses to gay couples and some are not. A Federal District Court judge, Callie V Ganade, ruled last month that Alabama’s prohibition against same sex marriage is unconstitutional. Her ruling took effect today, February 9, 2015. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, he of Ten Commandments fame who was impeached for refusing to follow a federal court order in 2003, but was reelected to the bench during the last election cycle, has issued an order to the Probate Courts that no gay marriage licenses are to be issued until the US Supreme Court rules on the matter.
In this one instance, as a legal matter, Judge Moore has a point. Federal District Courts are federal trial courts. One judge, appointed for life, presides over the courtroom. It is generally assumed that District Court jurisdiction does not extend outside of its geographic area, which in Alabama usually comprises a dozen or so counties. If District Court constitutional judgments had effect anywhere and everywhere, it would mean that one lonely Federal District Court Judge might decide matters of national importance. And that shouldn’t happen. Nor should it happen that a Federal District Court judge decides upon constitutional matters affecting a whole state. Constitutional questions of national or statewide import are for the appellate federal courts to decide, including if necessary the US Supreme Court.
But the gay marriage legal imbroglio could be resolved the nation over with just one case. All the US Supreme Court has to do is take a case questioning the enforceability of a gay marriage lawfully entered in a state different than the one in question. If the marriage is enforceable under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution*, as it well should be, then the federal legality of gay marriage need not be determined. If gay marriage is legal in one state, it will effectively be legal in all states, and marriage will remain, as it always has been, an issue left to the states to resolve. Alabama can remain obstinately unwilling to allow gay marriage, but if Florida allows it, then a gay Alabama couple need only go to Florida and get married for it to have full validity under Alabama law. Call it the Vegas ruling. Because what happens in Vegas doesn’t really stay there. It never really did.
*Found in Article IV, Section I, the clause is stated as follows:
Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.