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Religious Tolerance logo

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

Alabama's movement towards marriage
equality: Introduction and timeline

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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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US map with Alabama highlighted U.S. Map with Alabama highlighted.

On 2015-FEB-09, Alabama become the first state in the deep south of the U.S. to attain marriage equality -- sort of.

As of FEB-13, same-sex couples in Alabama can only obtain marriage licenses in a minority of the state's 67 counties. Fortunately, the locations where licenses are available to them are scattered throughout the state. The state is about 200 miles in an East - West direction, and about 300 miles North - South. 5 Thus it is not much of a problem for couples to travel to a nearby county and obtain a license there. However, many find that humiliating and one more indication that the state considers them second-class citizens.

Largely because of their political and religious conservatism, Alabamians have the highest -- or almost the highest -- level of opposition to marriage by same-sex couples of any state in the union. They also have Chief Justice Roy Moore as the head of their state's Supreme Court. He has views about the authority and powers of the federal court system that have little support outside the deep South.

Some commentators have drawn obvious parallels between Chief Justice Moore's action's in opposition to same-sex marriage during 2015-FEB and:

  • Former Governor Faubus (D) ordering the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the desegregation of the Central High School in Little Rock, AR during 1957. 8

  • Former Governor George Wallace's (D) inaugural address in 1963, during which he proclaimed racial "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." 6

  • Former Governor Wallace personally blocking the door at the University of Alabama, also in 1963, to prevent two black students from registering. 7

  • Chief Justice Moore's rejection of a 2003 order by a federal court to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments that he had placed in the state Supreme Court building. This action that resulted in his removal from office. He was returned to office by voters in 2012.

Probate judges in Alabama's 67 counties are responsible for the issuance of marriage licenses, This is an elected post.

On 2015-FEB-08, one day before an Alabama federal District Court's order to make marriage licenses available to same-sex couples became effective, Chief Justice Moore issued a letter to each of the 67 probate judges in the state, ordering them to refuse to follow the District Court's order.

Moore's order has put the judges in a difficult position:

  • If they followed Chief Justice Moore's order, they would be ignoring a direct order from the federal District Court. They would be exposed to the possibility of personal lawsuits by same-sex couples which could result in major fines.

  • If they followed the District Court's order, they would be ignoring a direct order from the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. They would also be certain to lose major support in the next election from the voters, among whom about 70% currently remain opposed to marriage equality.

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wedding ringsTimeline towards same-sex marriage from 2003 until now:

Alabama is one of the most conservative states in the U.S. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/Transsexual (LGBT) community have enjoyed few protections and benefits. Compared with Massachusetts, the state where same-sex marriage was first legalized in 2004, marriage equality was still a somewhat elusive goal in early 2015-FEB.

  • 1998: Probably in response to a couple in Hawaii seeking same-sex marriage through state courts there, the Alabama legislature passed a bill to limit marriage to one woman and one man.

  • 2003: Private same-gender sexual behavior was decriminalized across the entire United States in 2003 as a result of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Lawrence v. Texas.

  • 2006-JUN: A state constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality was passed by 81% of the voters. There have been over 30 such amendments in other states. To our knowledge, Alabama's was passed by the largest margin.

  • 2013-MAY-14: Cari D. Searcy, Kimberly McKeand and their son, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. They had previously been married in California. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was named as defendant. The plaintiffs seek recognition of their marriage in Alabama so that Searcy can adopt the couple's 9-year-old son who they have both raised since he was born to McKeand. They also seek to bring marriage equality to the state.

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  • 2015-JAN-23: U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade issued a summary judgment. She declared the SSM bans in Alabama to be unconstitutional and void because they violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The defendant is "enjoined from enforcing" the bans established by the Alabama Constitution and marriage statutes.

    Her ruling is very similar to over 40 other rulings in federal and state courts since late 2013. Like these previous rulings, she asserts that:
    • Although the states have the full responsibility to define who can marry, and

    • Although the federal government has no authority in this area,, that:

    • The states' definitions must not violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

  • 2015-JAN-25: The District Court ruling was temporarily stayed until FEB-09 to allow the State to appeal the case and to try to obtain an extended stay from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • 2015-JAN-26: U.S. District Judge Callie Granade issued a second, similar SSM decision in a case involving an unmarried gay couple who want to marry in their home state of Alabama. The ruling has also been stayed until FEB-09. The Attorney General immediately promised to appeal the ruling to the 11th Circuit.

  • 2015-JAN-01: SSM status at the start of the year:
    • The bad news, from a human rights perspective, is that same-sex marriages were not allowed in Alabama. Same-sex marriages solemnized out-of-state are not recognized in Alabama. Same-sex couples married out-of-state cannot adopt each other's children. Same-sex couples are recognized only as "legal strangers," as simple roommates, with few state and federal benefits and protections for themselves and their children.

    • The good news, from a human rights perspective, is that a U.S. District Court has ruled that the state's two bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and void. The Court stayed its ruling until FEB-09. The state attempted to get a longer stay from the District Court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals without success. The plaintiffs attempted to get the District Court to lift the stay early, without success. The state attempted to have the U.S. Supreme Court extended the stay without success.

    Of course, if you believe that marriage should be restricted to one woman and one man. then the good news/bad listings should be reversed.

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  • 38 2015-JAN-09: The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state's request for a stay extension. The District Court stay expired and same-sex couples started to obtain marriage licenses and to marry. Alabama became the 38th state in the U.S. -- and the first state in the deep South -- to have attained marriage equality. However, in most counties, probate judges chose to follow an order by the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. They refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In some counties, they have closed down their office and are refusing to issue licenses to any couples. However, some Probate Judges in the state are honoring their oath of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution, so that same-sex couples in Alabama are able to leave their home state, go to a nearby county, obtain a license, and be married. This is humiliating to them. It reinforces their understanding that most people in the state consider them unworthy of full human rights. But at least they are married which they were not able to do in the past.

  • 2015-FEB-14: On Valentine's Day, the chaotic situation had largely been sorted out. Same-sex couples were able to obtain marriage licenses in most counties.

  • In the future:
    • 2015-JUN/JUL: The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in a consolidated case involving same-sex marriage in four states: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, & Tennessee. This should harmonize same-sex marriage laws across the entire U.S.

    • However, even as marriage equality comes to Alabama, there are still many legal obstacles facing the LGBT community in Alabama. David Dinielli is the deputy legal director of the LGBT Rights Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) -- an organization that specializes in studying hate groups in the U.S. He wrote:

    "More work remains on behalf of LGBT people. They still face discrimination in the Deep South, including formal discrimination enshrined in the law. It is still a felony in Alabama for LGBT people to have sex. 2 Teachers in Alabama are still required to teach that homosexuality is immoral and illegal. And, of course, there is the private discrimination that LGBT people face every day, that the law fails to prevent." 3

    In reality, since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, same-gender sexual behavior by adults in private has been legal. Any law in the U.S. that is still on the books criminalizing such behavior is unconstitutional, void, and unenforceable.

    Now that SSM has been legalized in Alabama, groups that had been fighting marriage equality there are now expected to switch their efforts towards guaranteeing Alabamians the religious freedom to discriminate against sexual minorities. And so, the battles will continue.

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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. Some quotes copied, with thanks, from GoodReads.com web site at: http://www.goodreads.com/
  2. While it is true that the statutes of Alabama still list same-gender sexual behavior as a felony, the law was made unenforceable and void by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling during 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas which decriminalized such behavior across the U.S.
  3. "Decision overturning Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban a victory for families, children of same-sex couples," Southern Poverty Law Center, 2015-JAN-23, at: http://www.splcenter.org/
  4. "Compare divorce and family laws," Find the Data, 2015, at: http://divorce-laws.findthedata.com/
  5. "Alabama - Location, size, and extent," City-Data, 2010, at: http://www.city-data.com/
  6. "'Segregation Forever': A Fiery Pledge Forgiven, But Not Forgotten," National Public Radio, 2013-JAN-10, at: http://www.npr.org/
  7. Benjamin Schwarz, "Insidious weakness," The Atlantic, 1998-MAY-01, at: http://www.theatlantic.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-JAN-29
Latest update: 2015-FEB-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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