INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
This has been an eventful year. Thousands of tourists have flocked to Alabama to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March for Civil and Voting Rights. The events that happened in Alabama spurred the enactment of the landmark acts that broke down the legal barriers prohibiting African Americans from voting in the South.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it unlawful to discriminate based on race. It was followed up the next year with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that assured African Americans the right to vote.
Ironically, as the state and nation were preparing to celebrate and remember the famous 1965 marches and subsequent enactment of the Voting Rights Act, the federal courts essentially gave all marriage rights to homosexual couples in Alabama. Federal judges have clearly and emphatically ruled that it is unconstitutional to prohibit lesbian, gay and bisexual people from marrying each other. The federal courts have determined that same sex marriage rights are granted under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
In late January, a Mobile Federal Judge ruled Alabama’s constitutional amendment stating that marriage is only reserved for a man and woman is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court set the precedent in a pivotal case last year. They are set to place the final nail in the coffin next month. They sent a clear message as to their direction. They selected the appealing states that are right on point. This time next month it will be all over but the shouting. Same sex marriage will be the law of the land.
Based on last year’s Supreme Court ruling, 36 states allow same sex marriage. Alabama became the 37th state on February 9, 2015. Therefore, same sex marriage rights arrived in the United States and Alabama 50 years after Equal Voting Rights.
Alabama was one of a host of states that passed constitutional amendments outlawing same sex marriage during the past decade. Alabamians passed the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Act in 2006 with an overwhelming 81% vote. That is a pretty strong approval margin. So, it is not surprising that most Alabama political players denounced the Court’s recent ruling.
Gov. Bentley led the chorus saying, “The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage between a man and woman. I am disappointed by the ruling.” However, the most ardent posturing came from Chief Justice Roy Moore. “Be advised,” he said, “that I stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority.” Judge Moore, who is no stranger to conflict and throwing down the gauntlet when it comes to religious and socially conservative issues, sent a memorandum to all state probate judges instructing them not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.
By and large, most probate judges ignored Moore and complied with the federal court mandate. Even though most of the probate judges do not agree with the edict and all were probably among the 81% who constitutionally voted to ban same sex marriage in 2006, they also know that they have to uphold the law. They understand the basic tenants of the judicial system in America.
Under our system of government, the U.S. Supreme Court trumps the Alabama Chief Justice’s opinion. The Supreme Court makes the law of the land and the Supreme Court is going to put the final coup de grace to their interpretation of the constitution come July. Same sex marriage will be the law of the land. It already is in Alabama.
Five years ago, who would have thought that same sex marriage would be sanctified in Alabama? It would have been laughed at 50 years ago. However, integration of schools by race in Alabama would have been thought to be ludicrous in 1915. Folks, things are a changing. In fact, public opinion in the United States favors same sex marriage by a 60% to 40% margin. There has even been an incremental change in Alabamians’ opinions. Today, polling reveals 40% of Alabamians would permit same sex marriage, while 60% oppose it.
It does not really matter what we think, what Roy Moore does, nor how much any other political characters bark at the moon or stand in the schoolhouse door. The Supreme Court has deemed same sex marriage the law of the land.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column on Alabama politics appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.