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Religious Tolerance logo

Recognition of same-sex marriage (SSM) & LGBT equality

Part 16: Alabama: 2015-FEB-09:
Marriage equality has arrived but
marriage licenses are hard to obtain.

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In this web site, the acronym "SSM" refers to same-sex marriage. Also, "LGBT"
refers to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/Transsexual community

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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LGBT symbol More reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and to the marriages of same-sex couples:

  • Matthew Teague, writing for the Los Angeles Times, said:

    "Like lightning striking a Southern oak, the conflict over gay marriage split the judges of this state Monday.

    Some followed the prodding of their own state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who ordered probate judges not to obey a U.S. District Court order striking down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban.

    Others agreed with the federal court; they started marrying people in the morning.

    Then, there were those who hired their own lawyers — and tried to stand in the middle as best they could.

    'On the advice of my counsel, my outside counsel, we are accepting applications for marriage but we are not processing any right now,' said Judge Tim Russell in Baldwin County. ..."

    "There were few protests, and there seemed to be no disturbances in the major cities. In Birmingham, a police spokesperson said 'a dozen or so" protesters stood outside the courthouse but did not interfere with gay couples seeking licenses.'

    In Montgomery, a police spokesperson responded to questions about protests and arrests with, 'Protests about what'?" 9

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  • Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fairhope -- a Southern Baptist congregation -- said:

    "We don't believe the Scripture condones marriage between two people of the same gender."

    He appears concerned about long range legal problems if his church does not agree to marry same-sex couples. He said:

    "If we go against the law, we could lose our tax-exempt status. There are some serious implications here." 9

    This is a very widespread belief among many conservative Christians: that there is a federal law that requires churches to marry same-sex couples, and that the minister, pastor, rabbi, imam, etc. might be charged for violating that law if they refuse to marry such couples.

    In reality, there is no state or federal law that requires clergy to marry anyone. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution creates a "wall of separation" between church and state. For centuries, pastors have been refusing to marry couples because they are interracial, or too immature, or of the wrong faith group, or of the wrong race, or -- sometimes by the Roman Catholic Church -- if one spouse is physically disabled. To our knowledge, no clergy has ever been charged for refusing to marry any couple for any reason. Still, the fear lives on and is promoted by some conservative Christian information sources.

  • Lawyer David Kennedy represented the plaintiffs in the first SSM case Searcy v. Strange before Judge Callie V.S. "Ginny" Granade of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. He said:

    "Unfortunately, sometimes it makes for very good politics here to be seen as opposing federal intervention, whether it’s from a court or a federal agency. The situation here is that this is not federal intervention. It’s not federal intervention at all. What it is, is a federal court declaring what same-sex couples’ rights are under the federal Constitution." 1

    Interpreting when a person or group violates the federal Constitution is a main function of the federal court system -- of the District Courts, Circuit Courts of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court itself.

  • The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is the main national group opposed to marriage by same-sex couples. Their president, Brian Brown, said:

"A majority of the Supreme Court has cast disrepute on the impartiality of the Court by refusing to follow previous protocol and issue a stay of a lower court ruling while it is being considered by the Court," said Brian Brown, NOM's president. "The issues in play are currently under review by the Supreme Court, and allowing a lower court ruling that overturns a state marriage amendment adopted by over 80% of voters is reckless and undermines the integrity of the Court. We call on the people of Alabama to continue to enforce their state marriage laws. ..." 3

  • Two opposing views by Baptist and Unitarian Universalist clergy were shown on WSFA-TV:

WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news. 4

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2015-FEB-09: Massive resistance mounts against the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples:

Alabama consists of 67 counties. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reported at 11 AM on Monday FEB-09 -- the first day of same-sex marriages in Alabama -- that nine very courageous probate judges in nine counties are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The counties were: Calhoun, Lauderdale, Lee, Mobile, Morgan, Pike, Shelby, Tuscaloosa, and Washington. We use the term "courageous" because they are sticking to their guns even as they expose themselves to personal lawsuits which they would have no chance of winning.

If this situation had continued during the day, it would not have seriously impeded same-sex couples from obtaining a license. All of the nine counties where marriage licenses were not available are surrounded by at least three counties where they can be obtained.

But by 4 PM, HRC reported that the number of counties where same-sex applicants for marriage licenses were rejected had risen to 14. They were: Bullock, Chambers, Chilton, Clay, Coffee, Cranshaw, Etowah, Fayette, Jefferson, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marengo, and Montgomery. 5

By 9 PM, the Washington Post reported that of the 67 counties in Alabama, 46 had stopped issuing marriage licenses entirely, 12 were issuing licenses to opposite-sex couples but not to same-sex couples, and only 9 counties issued licenses to all qualified applicants.

Reporter Sandhya Somashekhar wrote:

"Gay couples were able to get licenses in about a dozen places, including Birmingham, Huntsville [Montgomery] and a few other counties where probate judges complied with the [District Court] judge’s decision. ... But in the majority of counties, officials said they would refuse to license same-sex marriages or stop providing licenses altogether, confronting couples — gay and heterosexual — with locked doors and shuttered windows." 2

This level of judicial defiance by probate judges in Alabama is very different from the reactions in courthouses across the nation as marriage equality came to the previous 37 states over the past 11 years. In Alabama, voter opposition to same-sex marriage is on the order of 70%. Since probate judges in Alabama are elected by the voters, if a judge obeys the ruling of the District Court, they would probably be voted out of office in the future.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Kim Chandler & Jay Reeves, "Alabama judge’s objections to gay marriage raise echoes of 1960s race issue," The Seattle Times, 2015-FEB-09, at: http://seattletimes.com/
  2. Sandhya Somashekhar, "Judicial defiance in Alabama: Same-sex marriages begin," video, Washington Post, 2015-FEB-09, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. Robert Barnes, "Clarence Thomas faults Supreme Court for refusing to block gay marriage in Alabama," Washington Post, 2015-FEB-09, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  4. Hunter Robinson, "Church pastors react to same-sex marriage ruling," WSFA-TV, Montgomery, http://www.wsfa.com/
  5. "Where same-sex marriage is being refused," New York Times, 2015-FEB-09. at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  6. "Scenes of same-sex marriage, and rejection, across Alabama," New York Times, 2015-FEB-09. at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  7. Bob Unruh, ""Federal judge refuses sanctions in 'gay marriage' case," WND, 2015-FEB-09, at: http://www.wnd.com/
  8. "Why Roy Moore’s gay marriage gambit isn’t just Alabama being Alabama," Washington Post, 2015-FEB-09, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  9. Matthew Teague, "In Alabama, a patchwork of reactions over same-sex marriage," Los Angeles Times, 2015-FEB-09, at: http://www.latimes.com/

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    Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Alabama > here

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2015-FEB-09
Latest update: 2015-FEB-10
Author: B.A. Robinson
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