Tags: Gay Marriage | alabama | divid | same-sex-marriage

Same-Sex Marriage Divides Alabama

Monday, 09 Feb 2015 10:28 PM

In Montgomery, Alabama, Shaqweda Bell and Jennine Webb were met by revelers blowing bubbles, bearing flowers and cheering as they arrived at the courthouse Monday. The two women left with a marriage license 20 minutes later.

In Mobile, about 170 miles away on the Gulf Coast, John Humphrey and Jim Strawser spent the day in a courthouse lobby outside the darkened wedding-license office. It was closed.

"We are going to keep coming up here until we get a license," said Humphrey, who successfully sued in U.S. court to have Alabama's gay-marriage ban repealed.

Alabama was divided in two as it became the 37th state with same-sex marriage, thanks to orders of a U.S. court. In one, gays and lesbians celebrated a newfound right. In the other, they were turned away as Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered county probate judges to uphold the ban passed by voters nine years ago.

In Jefferson and Montgomery counties, home to Birmingham and the state capital, respectively, judges issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In at least 27 of Alabama's 67 counties, gay and lesbians still couldn't get them, according to Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, which supports same-sex marriage.

The divided legal landscape came after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to delay U.S. District Judge Callie Granade's rulings last month that struck down Alabama's barrier to gay marriage. On Sunday night, Moore told officials to defy the court orders as they took effect.

Last Stand

The schism will probably be short-lived as lawsuits force officials to recognize federal authority, said Ron Krotoszynski, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa.

"We'll see same-sex marriage throughout the state," Krotoszynski said. "That's pretty much inevitable."

The Deep South is one of the final battlegrounds in a civil-rights fight that's toppled barriers to homosexual unions in most of the nation. Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina began marrying gay couples late last year under U.S. court orders. Florida followed last month.

Bible Belt

Yet in the Bible Belt state, where politics is often cast in the explicit context of Christianity, the change surprised supporters and opponents alike.

"It's not like gay marriage was on Alabama's radar at all," said Mia Raven, a lay minister in Montgomery who supports it. "We all thought we were going to be the 49th or 50th state to do it. Either us or Mississippi would be last."

Justice Moore, a 67-year-old Republican, said the issue had produced "confusion and disarray" among county judges that he was empowered to halt. It wasn't the first time the elected official challenged federal orders: He was ousted from the job in 2003 for defying a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a public building.

His move echoed so-called state's rights rhetoric that has defined Alabama politics since the days of segregation, when Governor George Wallace made a symbolic "stand in the schoolhouse door" in 1963 to prevent blacks from attending the University of Alabama.

Cavalier Attitude

Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, said he was disappointed by the federal court decisions and wouldn't punish county officials who refuse to issue marriage licenses.

"Today's decision represents yet another example of this court's cavalier attitude toward the states," he said in a statement.

The results in Alabama's counties were mixed. Some responded by not issuing marriage licenses, only accepting applications or turning away just same-sex couples, said Watson, the director of the Alabama ACLU.

Shelby County, a Birmingham suburb, decided not to issue licenses to any couples, gay or straight, because of the conflicting orders. In rural Covington County, probate clerk Rachel Faust said two same-sex couples who showed up by mid- afternoon were refused.

Montgomery County

At the Montgomery County court, a crowd of about 20 cheered couples who had arrived for licenses.

As each pair emerged, they were handed carnations and daisies or showered with blown soap bubbles and feted with a chorus of cheers. The supporters derided Moore, saying his behavior blackens the state's image.

"He thinks he represents Alabama but he doesn't," said Brian Wibecam, 51.

Across the street, which was blocked off by police, protesters stood behind a sign that said "He who sins is a slave of sin. Whose slave are you?"

Moore's order "was good and it was just," said David Day, 33, who held the sign.

"The reason people put him in office is because he would do things in a way that we believe. I thank God we put him there."

The conflict over same-sex marriage nationally may be short-lived. The Supreme Court's 7-2 order Monday that allowed the marriages to begin came ahead of a case that may result in legalization nationwide later this year. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented.

Constitutional Right

Thomas said the order "may well be seen as a signal" that the court intends to rule that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.

In Mobile, Don Davis, the probate judge, was sued Monday by couples over his decision not to issue licenses.

When they arrived at the courthouse, its marriage license section remained dark, with its service windows shut tight. Staff responded to queries through a locked door. Humphrey said they won't give up.

"We'll keep coming and there are about 40 other couples here saying the same thing,'' Humphrey said by phone from the probate lobby. "We have an obligation, not just to ourselves but all the other gay couples."


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In Montgomery, Alabama, Shaqweda Bell and Jennine Webb were met by revelers blowing bubbles, bearing flowers and cheering as they arrived at the courthouse Monday. The two women left with a marriage license 20 minutes later.In Mobile, about 170 miles away on the Gulf Coast,...
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2015-28-09
Monday, 09 Feb 2015 10:28 PM
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