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Religious Tolerance logo

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

Part 34: Alabama: 2015-MAR to MAY:
Probate Judge submits petition to state court.
Presbyterian Church U.S.A. accepts SSM.
Redundant bill in the Legislature will allow judges
and clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

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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.
PC(USA) refers to the Presbyterian Church (USA).

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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LGBT symbol 2015-MAR-17: Probate Judge Steven L. Reed submitted a petition to the Alabama Supreme Court:

Probate Judge Reed represents Jefferson County, which contains Alabama's second largest city, Montgomery. He filed an application with the Alabama Supreme Court asking it to revisit their earlier decision. It had ordered him and the other 67 Probate Judges in the state to cease issuing marriage licenses to qualified same-sex couples. He did not ask that the Court actually reverse his earlier decision. Rather, with a vague reference to the constitutional crisis in the mid 20th century over racial desegregation, Reed asked that that the Alabama Supreme Court:

"... make clear that it will not seek to delay the ability of Alabama citizens to exercise their constitutional rights as they are declared by the Supreme Court of the United States."

This is a reference to the consolidated case involving same-sex marriages in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. There is a growing opinion among many high Court watchers that when that court issues its ruling during mid-2015, it will legalize marriage equality across the entire country. The last time that the federal high court was faced with a marriage conflict of this type was in 1967 when it issued its ruling in Loving v. Virginia. It legalized interracial marriage across the entire United States. The deep South states followed the high Court's ruling at that time.

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Judge Reed wrote:

"it is important for ... [The Alabama Supreme] Court to demonstrate that Alabama is committed to the rule of law: that Alabama would not engage in foot-dragging or other forms of resistance to decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States about matters of constitutional rights." 1

If the Alabama Supreme Court reacts positively to Reed's request then their decision would go a long way to defusing the current situation. The inter-court conflict might simply become a waiting game until the high court issues its ruling in the case Obergefell v. Hodgeslate during June or early July.

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2015-MAR-18: Most presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. have voted to changed its definition of marriage to include same-sex couples:

Westminster Presbyterian Church in Mobile, AL is part of the Presbytery of South Alabama -- one of three local units of the Presbyterian Church (USA). During late February, this presbytery voted against a change in the denomination's Book of Order to recognize marriages by same-sex couples. The other two presbyteries in Alabama voted in favor of the change -- one narrowly and the other by a wide margin.

All of the denomination's 172 presbyteries were asked to vote on the change. On MAR-18, 87 presbyteries -- a majority -- had voted in favor in the revision. The new definition should become implemented by mid-year.

Rev. David C. Mauldin, pastor at Westminster, said:

"This saddens me, and it is a change (that) many who are now within this denomination cannot abide. ... Because God invented marriage, we are not free to redefine it." 2

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2015-MAR to MAY: Bill introduced to allow probate judges and clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples:

State Rep. Jim Hill (R) introduced the Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act, HB 56. It would allow probate judges, clergy, and other marriage officiants the right to exercise their religious freedom to discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to marry them. They could refuse for religious or for any other reason. 3,4

During mid-March, after about four hours debate in the House of Representatives, the bill was passed.

During April, the Senate Health and Human Services sub-committee held a public hearing and also passed HB 56.

On MAY-06, Alabama's Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony about the bill.

The ACLU of Alabama, the Human Rights Campaign of Alabama, Equality Alabama, and other pro-equality groups oppose the bill. They expressed concern that, if passed, the bill would prevent access for gay couples at religiously affiliated hospitals, schools and other social organizations.

Rep. Patricia Todd (D) is the only openly gay legislator in Alabama. She said:

"This [bill] is very hurtful to me as an openly gay person."

Paul Hard, a former Baptist minister is also opposing the bill. In an act of supreme cruelty, during 2011, when his husband was dying as a result of a car accident, he wasn't allowed to visit his husband in the hospital because their marriage was not recognized in Alabama. He opposed the bill noting that members of the clergy already have the right, guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to decline to marry any couple for any reason.

Paul Hard is correct. Clergy have been refusing to marry black couples, interracial couples, persons not of their denomination, couples that they feel lack the maturity to marry, or other couples for any reason at all. They have been doing this for centuries with impunity. We have never been able to find a record of any priest, minister, or pastor who was charged with a crime for refusing to marry a couple.

He also noted that probate judges are public servants elected by the voters and have their salaries paid by Alabama citizens. They should not be allowed to discriminate against some of those citizens.

As state officials, probate judges have taken an oath of office to obey the federal and state constitutions. A District Court judge has reached the same conclusions as have many dozens of state and federal judges have since mid-2013: that the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires judges to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples limited only by the same age and consanguinity criteria.

Senator Phil Williams (R) who is a member of the Senate committee, asked of those opposed to the bill:

"Why would you want someone to officiate your wedding, when they don't want to be there? ... What you want is the ability to sue someone for not doing what you want them to do."

A lawyer, Eric Johnston, spoke in favor of the bill. He said that if the Supreme Court were to legalized gay marriage across the country, then Bill HB 56 would still allow same-sex couples to marry.  He said:

"This is not about equal protection. This is about religious freedom."

Webmaster's clarification: (bias alert):

The bill would not change officiants' religious freedom to believe, speak, assemble or proselytize. They already have these freedoms, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It would only give to officiants the religious freedom to discriminate against others when on the job.

However, when an officiant refuses to meet the wishes of a couple who wish to be married, it is important to realize that officiants would be violating Golden Rule, which is a comman of Jesus in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. It is also found in all the other major religions in the world and many systems of philosophy. To followers of most religions, that would appearl to be a serious sin, although few seem to be bothered by it.

An officiant who chooses to discriminate would also be violating her or his oath of office which requres Probate Judges to uphold the U.S. Constitution as it is interpreted by the courts. Since mid-2013, many dozens of state and federal courts have declared bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to reinforce this interpretation when the High Court rules in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that involves appeals of 4 same-sex marriage cases, from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, & Tennessee. The ruling is expected during late 2015-JUN or early JUL.

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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. Steven Reed, "Petition 'In the Supreme Court of Alabama," 2015-MAR-17, at: http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/
  2. Carol McPhail, "South Alabama Presbyterians react to ratification of gay marriage amendment." Alabama Media Group, 2015-MAR-18, at: http://www.al.com/
  3. Erin Edgemon, "Alabama bill targeting same-sex marriage set for another public hearing," Alabama Media Group, 2015-MAY-04, at: http://www.al.com/
  4. Erin Edgemon, "Alabama religious freedom bill will allow discrimination of gay couples, opponents say," Alabama Media Group, 2015-MAY-06, at: http://www.al.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-MAR-20
Latest update: 2015-JUN-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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