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Religious Tolerance logo

Part 40: Alabama: 2016-JAN:

AL Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore
again orders an end to gay marriage.
He is largely ignored by probate judges.

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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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We are using the term "gay marriage" here instead of the more
inclusive term "same-sex marriage" to improve access to this essay.
"Gay marriage" is not an accurate description for those same-sex
marriages in which one or more spouses has a bisexual orientation.

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gavel2016-JAN-01: Alabama: Availability of marriage licenses for same-sex couples:

As noted in previous essays, by mid- 2015, probate judges in the "major metropolitan areas" of Alabama and in most of the rural areas of the state were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. There were about 11 counties who had closed down their marriage license service entirely, and were not issuing marriage licenses to any couples. In addition, clerks in Coosa County initially refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but did issue them to opposite-sex couples.

The other 67 counties in Alabama were issuing licenses to qualified couples, both of the same-sex and opposite-sex. Fortunately, the law in Alabama allows couples to travel to another county to obtain their marriage license. This caused a relatively minor inconvenience to couples in the dozen counties who were resisting marriage equality.

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2016-JAN-06: Chief Justice Moore issues an administrative order which is largely ignored:

Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court issued an administrative order stating that all counties must stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

  1

He claimed that there was confusion over whether the ruling in late 2015-JUN by the U.S. Supreme Court actually applied in Alabama. Even though essentially all county courts throughout the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four of the five U.S. territories were complying with the High Court's decision, Justice Moore claimed that the ruling did not apply to Alabama.

His belief appears to be unique; there are no indications that any of the other 49 states' Supreme Court Chief Justices or the other 49 states' Attorney Generals saw any confusion over the High Court's ruling. The confusion seems to have been limited to the mind of Chief Justice Moore, and perhaps some other Alabama Supreme Court Justices.

Still, his decision may be supported by most Alabama adults. Polling data released by the Public Religious Research Institute during 2015-FEB showed that support for gay marriage in Alabama was only 32%. 1 This was lower than any other state in the U.S. Since public opinions tend to change very slowly, particularly in the South, it is probable that by the start of 2016, a large majority of adults in the state still opposed marriage equality.

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Responses to Chief Justice Moore's order:

Richard Cohen heads the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that monitors hate groups in the United States. He said:

"The chief justice's actions are unethical, contrary to law, and he should be removed from office. The state of Alabama deserves much better. I was a little surprised, a little taken aback by what Justice Moore did, but then of course I realized it’s Justice Moore. He’s a religious zealot, he’s an egomaniac; he, I think, will not stop."

Also on Wednesday, Probate Judge Tommy Ragland of Madison County initially followed the administrative order. He announced that he would only issue marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples in the future. A group of marriage equality supporters rallied outside the County courthouse in Huntsville, AL on Wednesday evening, The next morning, Judge Ragland resumed issuing licenses to all qualified couples -- same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

It seems that most or all of the remaining Probate Judges in Alabama ignored Chief Justice Moore's order, leaving him with egg on his face. His order seems to have only affected one or two counties for part of one day.

Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton (D), who is running for the U.S. presidency in 2016, said:

"There are still judges who are determined to stand in the way of people's rights. There are still politicians who argue the court got it wrong and states should ignore its ruling.

Shannon Bridgmon, a political scientist at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK said:

"In the end, he doesn’t hold any hope of actually stopping any of these marriages. But the big question here is jurisdiction: Who has jurisdiction over defining the family? This is about state relevance."

Ronald Krotoszynski Jr., a law professor at the University of Alabama said:

"I think the big picture here is that law isn’t politics and politics isn’t the law. As a political matter, the chief justice can oppose Obergefell, argue it’s wrongly decided, and propose an amendment to the federal Constitution. But as the chief justice of Alabama, there’s no meritorious argument here.

It’s problematic, too, for an administrative judge to urge other state officials to defy the Supreme Court. We have a history of that. ... There’s little daylight between former Gov. George Wallace’s admonition to state school board officials in the ’60s and Moore’s admonition to state’s probate judges yesterday."

Governor Wallace's concern was the preservation of school segregation by race. Chief Justice Moore's concern was the preservation of marriage in Alabama being limited only to the voluntary union of one woman and one man.

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Probate Judge Stephen L. Reed in Montgomery County issued a message on Twitter saying:

"Judge Moore's latest charade is just sad & pathetic. My office will ignore him & this."

This may be Chief Justice Moore's last homophobic gesture. When his term ends on 2018-DEC-31, he will be 71 years-of-age. Alabama law apparently prohibits judges over 70 years-of-age from being elected or re-elected to office. 2,3,4

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2016-JAN-10: What does the future hold for gay marriage in Alabama?

We expect that the nine county clerks who still refuse to recognize the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will eventually conform to the rule of law, accept the principle of marriage equality, and start to issue marriage licenses to all qualified couples. In the meantime, loving, committed same-sex couples will have to travel to one of the adjacent counties in the state to obtain their marriage licenses. This state of affairs is humiliating to these couples. They are forced to accept their status as second-class citizens in the state. But at least they are allowed to marry. Also, every time a same-sex couple marries, those opposed to marriage equality are once more humiliated at their impotence to prevent these marriages from happening.

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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. "Alabama Blocks Gay Marriage," New York Times, 2016-JAN-07, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  2. Brendan Kirby, "Alabama ranks last in nation in support for gay marriage, survey finds," Alabama Media Group. 2015-FEB-11, at: http://www.al.com/
  3. Sunnivie Brydum, "Marriage Equality Resumes in Alabama, Despite Roy Moore," Advocate, 2015-JAN-08, at: http://www.advocate.com/
  4. Patrik Jonsson, "Roy Moore: the Alabama judge who 'relishes' gay marriage fight," The Christian Science Monitor, 2016-JAN-07, at: http://www.csmonitor.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: 2016-JAN-09
Latest update: 2016-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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