Alabama, it seems, is not able to live down its racist history.
When Roy S. Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, ordered probate judges throughout the state to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday, it reminded the New York Times of another Alabaman who resisted federal authority.
“His argument has deep resonance in a place where a governor, George Wallace, stood in a doorway of the University of Alabama in 1963 in an unsuccessful bid to block its federally ordered integration,” the Times wrote.
While the Grey Lady once ran a black and white photo of a defiant Gov. Wallace blocking the entrance of the university, the lede photo on today’s NYTimes.com site was of two middle-aged men wearing pink carnations and locking lips while sitting in the courtroom in Mobile, Ala.
The probate judge in Mobile was one of several who ignored Moore’s dictum, though many others are refraining from issuing licenses. Some, like Judge Susan H. Shorter of Barbour County, cited the conflict between the state’s highest judge and a federal appeals court judge and decided to wait for clarification.
“We are not sure which one to adhere to,” said Judge Shorter’s chief clerk, Beverly Lowe, in an interview with Aleteia. “We need further clarification.”
“In light of the chief justice’s order—who is the head of the judicial system in the State of Alabama, under which I work, I made the decision that we would not issue any same-sex marriage licenses until we receive some clarity on this issue,” said Blount County Probate Judge Chris Green in an interview. “We were prepared to abide by the federal judge’s order to issue licenses this morning. However, I made the decision that we would no longer perform civil ceremonies for anyone, regardless of race, gender, creed, color, sexual orientation, etc., which is a decision I can make and still be in full compliance with the laws of the State of Alabama.
“I don’t know where we’re going from here,” Green continued. “I understand there will be some action on the federal level to some degree, but I have no idea what’s going to happen. This has been a very dynamic situation, changing day by day for the last couple of weeks, and I have no clue where we’re headed from here. But I am abiding by the Chief Justice’s order.”
The U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for Alabama same-sex marriages today when, by a vote of 7-2, it rejected the state’s appeal of a federal court ruling. The two dissenting votes came from Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
The state now becomes the 37th where gays can marry.
Alabamans had voted overwhelmingly (81%) in 2006 to amend their state’s constitution so that it explicitly defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. A challenge to that amendment ended up in the court of Judge Callie V.S. Granade of the Federal District Court in Alabama. She ruled in January that the state’s ban was unconstitutional, but she put a hold on her order until Monday to give the state time to appeal. A federal appeals court in Atlanta refused to step in, and Alabama attorney general Luther Strange asked the US Supreme Court to halt the weddings until the justices settle the issue nationwide when they take it up this year.
Moore, meanwhile, wrote to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley saying probate judges were not bound to abide by Granade’s ruling.
But last night he went further.
“Effective immediately, no probate judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent” with the Alabama Constitution or state law, Chief Justice Moore wrote in his order late Sunday.
Birmingham Judge Alan King is one who did not abide by the order. He issued a license to two women shortly after the United States Supreme Court denied the Alabama attorney general’s request. The probate judge told the Times that he was abiding by Granade’s order.
But Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams released a “declaration in support of marriage” in which he said he would “only issue marriage licenses and solemnize ceremonies consistent with Alabama law and the U.S. Constitution; namely, between one man and one woman only, so help me God,” the Times reported, who added:
One activist threatened legal action against resisting judges. The Times reported:
Reached by telephone late Sunday night, Ben Cooper, chairman of the board of the gay rights group Equality Alabama, said that same-sex couples expected to be issued marriage licenses Monday morning.
“We are continuing to move forward tomorrow,” Mr. Cooper said. “If we walk in and licenses are refused, if they do not comply with the federal order, then these probate judges could be personally liable,” said Mr. Cooper, who added that he expected legal actions to be filed against the individual probate judges if they do not issue the licenses.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.