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(Reuters) — The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court ordered the state’s probate judges on Wednesday not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year legalizing gay marriage.

Chief Justice Roy Moore said the U.S. Supreme Court decision is at odds with earlier opinions by the state’s highest court, resulting in “confusion and uncertainty” among probate judges.

Many of the state’s judges have been issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples since the national ruling, while others refused to do so or stopped issuing licenses to any couples, Moore said.

“This disparity affects the administration of justice in this state,” he said in his administrative order.

While the Alabama Supreme Court weighs the issue, probate judges “have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary” to the state’s law banning same-sex marriage, Moore said.

The effect of Moore’s order was not immediately clear.

Gay marriage activists quickly rebuked it, arguing Moore does not have the authority to override higher courts.

“Chief Justice Roy Moore today issued a dead letter,” said Scott McCoy, a senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This is Moore yet again confusing his role as chief justice with his personal anti-LGBT agenda.”

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown)

Photo: Supporters of same-sex marriage hold a rainbow flag and a rainbow umbrella outside Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama February 9, 2015. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

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