If Marriage Equality Can Happen In Alabama, the Writing Is Clearly On the Wall

by Steven Gan

On Monday, February 9, 2015, solemnization of same-sex marriages commenced in Alabama. Regretfully, some of the jubilation that erupted from this momentous occasion was muted by the actions of Republican Judge Roy Moore, Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court.

Let me give you a little background on marriage equality in Alabama.

In 2005, the Alabama state legislature passed a bill that allowed the state’s residents to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban all forms of family status for same-sex couples. The amendment passed, cementing clearly discriminatory language into official state policy.

The next year, in June 2006, anti-gay forces in Alabama pushed through a constitutional amendment, the so-called Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which excluded same-sex couples from marriage and barred them from attaining any other form of family status.  Among other things, the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment prohibited two adults of the same sex from adopting a child together.

Fast-forward to 2015.  On January 23, U.S. District Court Judge Callie V. S. Granade struck down the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment to the Alabama constitution as inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection of law.  The successful plaintiffs, two women who were legally wed in California, sued when Alabama authorities relied on the state constitution to deny the petition of one spouse to adopt her spouse’s biological child.  Then, on January 27, in a separate case brought by an unmarried same-sex couple who wished to marry in Alabama, Judge Granade struck down altogether the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Shortly thereafter, on February 9, 2015, after the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court declined state officials’ requests for a stay of these rulings, same-sex marriages got off to a very rocky start in Alabama. In response, Judge Moore took the outrageous step of telling Alabama probate judges that they were not bound by Federal Judge Granade’s rulings.  Judge Moore instructed the probate judges to continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He insisted that any probate judge who issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples would be in violation of Alabama’s state constitution.

Fortunately, within a few days several probate judges saw past Judge Moore’s ignorance, bigotry, and muddled strategy, and judges in 51 of the state’s 67 counties, covering 86 percent of Alabama’s population, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In some of the other counties, officials who felt obliged to follow Judge Moore’s order to withhold marriage licenses from same-sex couples simply stopped issuing any marriage licenses at all.

Now, while I was following the day-to-day developments of marriage equality in Alabama, I watched a couple of television interviews.  The one that fascinated me the most was CNN’s Chris Cuomo’s interview of Judge Moore.

As I watched Chris Cuomo try to grapple with Judge Moore’s justification for telling probate judges not to follow Judge Granade’s rulings, I kept thinking to myself, “You can’t argue with a fool!” Judge Moore kept coming up with new theories to defend his position.  He first asserted that Judge Granade’s rulings, as a Federal judge, had no priority over Alabama’s state laws. Next, he claimed that our laws are made by God and no one has the power to change our God-given laws, even those created by the Alabama legislature. By the time I finished watching the over 20-minute interview, I was not only thoroughly confused by his logic but also realized how dangerous this Judge Moore is. That he could rock the justice system’s boat the way he has, and still receive the support of many Alabamians, suggests how far Alabama still has to go in dealing with civil rights.

Sadly, this is not the first time for Judge Moore to impose his theological interpretation on American law. In 2003, during his first term as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments (which he had commissioned) from the Alabama Judicial Building, despite orders to do so from a federal judge. On November 13, 2003, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary unanimously removed Moore from his post as Chief Justice.

The other interview that stood out for me was one with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said the following about same-sex marriage: “The change in people’s attitudes on that issue has been enormous. In recent years, people have said, ‘This is the way I am.’ And others looked around, and we discovered it’s our next-door neighbor—we’re very fond of them. Or it’s our child’s best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that ‘this is who I am,’ the rest of us recognized that they are one of us.”

It was very reassuring when the United States Supreme Court refused to stay Judge Granade’s rulings.

With Justice Ginsburg’s words in mind, I believe the national marriage equality wedding bells will be ringing

2015 March Newslettervery soon.

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