The Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges in the state on Tuesday to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The 7-1 ruling comes about three weeks after U.S. District Judge Callie Granade overturned the socially conservative state's ban on gay marriage in a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to put on hold.
"As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for 'marriage' between only one man and one woman," Tuesday's state Supreme Court ruling said. "Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law.
"Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty."
In a dissent, Justice Greg Shaw said it was "unfortunate" that federal courts refused to delay gay marriage in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court could settle the issue nationally. But, Shaw said, the state Supreme Court doesn't have the power to consider the issue.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this year to take up the issue of whether states can ban gay marriage. Its expected ruling in June likely will provide clarity on the issue in Alabama, as well as the 13 states where gay marriage remains illegal.
The Alabama high court ruling on Tuesday granted an emergency petition by two Alabama groups opposed to gay marriage, the Alabama Policy Institute and the Baptist-run Alabama Citizens Action Program.
Abstaining from the ruling was Roy Moore, the court's conservative chief justice, who last month ordered the state's probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a directive initially followed by most local judges. His stance created widespread confusion, prompting some judges to refuse to issue the licenses and others to shut down their operations for all couples, gay and straight, until they could get a clear answer.
Gay rights advocates were critical of the Tuesday ruling.
"It is deeply unfortunate that even as nationwide marriage equality is on the horizon, the Alabama Supreme Court is determined to be on the wrong side of history," the National Center for Lesbian Rights said in a statement.
"The only question is not whether marriage equality will return to Alabama, but how quickly."
A spokeswoman for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican opposed to gay marriage, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Luther Strange, also a Republican opposed to gay marriage, said his office had no comment.