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Religious Tolerance logo

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

Part 35: Alabama: 2015-MAY-18 to 22:
Freedom of speech & religion died in Alabama:
A member of the clergy was arrested, trying to
marry a lesbian couple.
U.S. District Court issues new ruling legalizing
SSM across Alabama. Ruling is temporarily stayed.

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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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u-u minister

Rev. Anne DiPrizio, on probation.
Her crime? Obeyed the
Golden Rule by treating a couple as
having full human rights in Alabama.
Guilty of disorderly conduct.

2015-MAY-18: Freedom of religion and speech dies in Alabama:

Numerous conservatives in the media have been warning the public recently that if marriage equality is attained, that religious freedom will come to a crashing halt. They have predicted that governments will start arresting pastors, ministers and priests who refuse to marry same-sex couples. This, of course, is ridiculous as anyone will realize if they bother to read the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution and understand the wall of separation between church and state that it creates. Members of the clergy have absolute authority to refuse to marry any couple for any reason at all. They have been doing this for centuries. They have refused to marry black couples, interracial couples, couples where one partner is of another denomination, couples where one partner is of another religion, where the couple is judged to be too immature for marriage, and for many other reasons.

To the best of our knowledge, the total number of clergy arrested for refusing to marry a couple since the end of the civil war in the late 19th Century is zero. [There might have been cases during the slavery era involving abolitionist clergy who married slave couples without the prior permission of the couple's owner.]

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Back in 2015-FEB, a member of the clergy was arrested in Alabama. A marriage of a same-sex couple was involved in the arrest. However, the circumstances of the arrest were reversed from what conservatives in the media had been predicting. The minister was actually trying to marry a same-sex couple, not refusing to marry them.

At the time, marriage licenses were available to same-sex couples in some Alabama counties. A lesbian couple had obtained their license at the Autauga County courthouse. They asked Probate Judge Al Booth to marry them. He refused to do so, apparently because both partners happened to be of the same sex. Rev. Anne Susan DiPrizio, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Prattville, AL, then offered to marry them in the courthouse.

According to Wikipedia's essay on Unitarian Universalism:

"Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious movement characterized by a 'free and responsible search for truth and meaning.' Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed but are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. As such, the Unitarian Universalist Church (UU) includes many agnostics, theists, and atheists among its membership. The roots of UU are in liberal Christianity, specifically Unitarianism and Universalism. Unitarian Universalists state that from these traditions comes a deep regard for intellectual freedom and inclusive love, so that congregations and members seek inspiration and derive insight from all major world religions." 1

Unfortunately, marrying a couple requires both the minister and the couple to speak, and there is no real freedom of speech or of religion in this particular Alabama courthouse. Rev. DiPrizio was ordered to stop the ceremony and to leave. In the spirit of the sit-ins at lunch counters throughout the south during the Civil Rights struggle in the mid-20th century, she refused to leave. Sheriff deputies were called. She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. 2

During the week of MAY-17, her case was heard. She pleaded guilty and was given a 30 day suspended sentence, placed on 6 months probation, and assessed a $250.00 fine plus associated court costs. 2

The article about the above incident on ThinkProgress.org resulted in many dozens of comments from readers:

  • Steven Fray posted:

    "So, after all the fear-mongering about clergy being prosecuted (and/or "persecuted") for refusing to marry same-sex couples, the first clergy to actually be prosecuted was trying, in the name of human kindness and decency, to marry a same-sex couple. Oh, the hypocrisy knows no bounds!" 2

  • Joseph B. Stephen responded:

    "Yep - perfect example of "religious freedom" - arrest a pastor doing a religious ceremony for a couple who have a license."

  • In a weak moment, the main author of this web site posted a comment:

    "Steven: You just don't understand the situation in Alabama. The standard fine for obeying the Golden Rule in that state is $250 plus costs. (Sarcasm)"

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marriage symbol 2015-MAY-21: U.S. District Judge Callie Grenada issued a new ruling:

Review of court activity concerning same-sex marriages: Since mid-2013, many dozens of state courts and U.S. District Courts had ruled that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. During 2014, three senior federal courts, the 4th, 9th and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, had also ruled that these bans were unconstitutional.

These courts all agreed that individual states have the right to establish their own criteria for marriage:

  • For example, every state imposes a minimum age that partners must reach before they can marry.

  • Another example is consanguinity: how close the partners can be related to each other and still get married. Some states ban marriages of first cousins because the percentage of their children that would suffer from genetic abnormalities would, on average, be double that of children born to unrelated spouses. Similarly, all states ban sister-brother marriages because the rate of such abnormalities would be much greater.

  • A third example is that a couple cannot obtain a marriage license if if one or both partners are already married.

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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. "Unitarian Universalism," Wikipedia, as on 2015-MAY-25, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. Ian Millhiser, "Alabama Minister Fined And Sentenced To Probation After She Tries To Marry A Same-Sex Couple," Think Progress, 2015-MAY-28, at: http://thinkprogress.org/

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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-09
Latest update: 2015-JUN-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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