The standoff between the Alabama court system and the federal courts over gay marriage should come to a head when the United States Supreme Court hears arguments about gay marriage and eventually offers its opinion, if gays have the right to marry anywhere in the United States or if individual states can ban it, refuse to issue marriage licenses to those of the same sex. The case before the Supreme Court will be heard in April. But, if Alabama’s history is an indication, a ruling against the Alabama courts may not end the situation without further confrontation.
In January, United States district judge Callie Grande issued a ruling that allowed licenses to be issued in Alabama to gays who want to marry. After hundreds were issued and marriages performed, after a directive from the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, the Alabama Supreme Court voted 7-1 this week against the process and ordered probate judges, those who issued the licenses, to halt the process. In Alabama, where 48 of the state’s 67 counties had recognized gay marriage, justices and the probate judges must seek re-election at the end of each term. In Alabama, where being conservative and God-fearing has more of a majority that Democrats and Republicans combined, turning against the State Supreme Court means probable defeat at the polls. A day after the 7-1 vote, there was no place in Alabama issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
Attorney David Kennedy, who was involved in the case that resulted in the Grande ruling, said this week: The Alabama Supreme Court has now demonstrated a willingness to defy and nullify a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the federal district court for the southern district of Alabama. Dean Lanton who this week just barely missed getting a marriage license so he could wed his partner, Randy Wells, said of the 7-1 vote: It was a punch in the gut. It was out of the blue. It's just Alabama politics, deja vu from the 1960s.
Which brings us to this: Will President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder send federal Marshals to Alabama to enforce the federal court rulings? Will the Alabama National Guard be called on by the Mr. Holder to make sure gay marriage continues in Alabama? Obviously there’s precedent for such action from the President and the AG from the 1960s when Governor George Wallace didn’t want to integrate public schools. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore started this chapter against gay marriage when he told the probate judges to ignore Grande’s order to allow. His comments were followed by the 7-1 vote. If you close your eyes and listen, maybe you’ll be able to hear the Honorable Mr. Moore echoing the sentiments of Governor Wallace: No gay marriage now; no gay marriage tomorrow; no gay marriage forever. Time will tell where this eventually goes, but all roads point to anyone who wants to marry, no matter sexual preference, will be allowed to do so, even in Alabama with licenses issued there and ceremonies performed there. There’s precedence for that.
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