Equality in Alabama? Same-Sex Marriage Reactions

Jun 26, 2015

Same sex marriage advocates outside the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is being both welcomed and criticized in Alabama. The nation’s highest court declared that state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional, and that existing marriages have to be recognized nationwide. Many officials including Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen say they oppose same-sex marriage and are resisting the implementation.

The ruling is being celebrated by couples APR News has been following for months.

“…just got a text from my sister that the Supreme Court rules that all states are to allow same-sex couples to marry. Just wanted to let you know in case you haven’t heard yet. I love you.”

That was a text that Angela Channell of Tuscaloosa thought she’d never get. The next step was to break the news to Dawn Hicks, her wife and partner of nearly 20 years.

“…aww, that’s awesome. So it looks like we’re staying married. Congratulations! We only did it twice. To make sure it took.”

“I was watching the clock to get closer to 9 AM central but then I was also keeping myself busy, ‘cause I was just nervous.”

We met Meredith Bagley four months ago. She got to break the news to her partner as well.

“I was in a meeting, but I saw – I felt my phone going off and so I just took a quick peek at it. The first text was from my dad, and it just said ‘Congratulations.’ And I knew it had to be the full win.”

Bagley and her partner Alexandrea Davenport joined dozens of supporters outside the County Courthouse with flags and signs to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision.

Inside the courthouse, however, it was a different scene.

“Hi! We’d like a marriage license. We have all of our – according to your website – what you need.”

“Well, at this time we are not issuing the same sex licenses. We don’t have our final ruling. Until we get that, we will comply with the law.”

Chief Clerk Lisa Whitehead turned down Tuscaloosa couple Jennifer Kenney and Hali Felt’s request for a marriage license.

Probate Judge Hardy McCollum explained why.

“Once there’s a ruling, it’s not final. There is an appeal process for those that make, and until it becomes final – once that’s done, we will comply with the federal, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.”

The appeal McCollum is referring to allows the losing side in a Supreme Court case to ask for a review. Even after Tuscaloosa County starts issuing licenses, don’t expect to see any same sex couples saying “I Do” with McCollum officiating.

“My thoughts are that I’m opposed to same-sex marriage personally and I will not be performing any.”

And, McCollum’s not the only one opposing same-sex marriage.

“It’s a violation of separation of powers between the legislature and the Supreme Court, it's a violation of federalism between the states and the federal government...”

That’s Jason Kidd, the executive director of the Montgomery-based Foundation for Moral Law.

“It’s a violation of legislative action when you have 81% of a population voting against something, and then it’s thrust upon them by one decision from a court that they didn’t have a voice in.”

And Kidd’s not alone.

“If there is going to be a change on something like this, it should be from the people up, not from the court down.”

That’s John Eidsmoe. He’s Senior Counsel at the Foundation. Eidsmoe is referring to an idea that a popular vote on same sex marriage be held instead of leaving it up to the courts.

Randall Marshall disagrees. He’s Legal Director at the ACLU of Alabama.

“If 81% of Alabama’s electorate voted to prohibit same-sex marriage, that still doesn’t make it any more right than if today 60% of the voters support same-sex marriage. People’s constitutional rights aren’t subject to vote.”

Alabama’s same-sex marriage controversy dates back to late January. That’s when federal lawsuits on adoption rights and medical power of attorney for gay couples were being heard.

The ALCU’s Randall Marshall says that’s when U.S. District Judge Callie Granade declared Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage federally unconstitutional.

“Following that, the Alabama Supreme Court, in a very unprecedented move, issued an order to the probate court judges to continue to enforce Alabama law.”

Meaning no same sex marriage licenses. That push was spearheaded by Chief Justice Roy Moore. His defiant stance against the federal courts and same-sex marriage made him something of a rock star among conservatives.

“Are we willing to say that a federal court will decide what our faith looks like? What our families look like? What marriage looks like?”

Reverend Pat Mahoney heads the Christian Defense Coalition. He led a rally in Montgomery in support of Chief Justice Moore back in February. Ironically, Mahoney mentioned Moore in the same breath as civil rights leaders of the 1960’s.

“People who took a stance like Chief Justice Moore, people who took a stance like Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, Rosa Parks right here in this city. We are saying that is the kind of commitment and movement that we are embracing. People who stood up against this judicial overreach.”

Opponents of gay marriage weren’t the only ones on pins and needles waiting for the high court’s decision. Gay rights activists held a rally on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to bolster support during the Supreme Court’s deliberations.

“People think that these, oh, these aren’t issues for places like this."

Dr. Adam Sharples was among those who spoke.

"But we’re here in all of these places and all of these spaces. And I think it’s time that those justices realize that we are everywhere. And everyone knows somebody who identifies this way. And we’re part of that fabric. And I’m tired of being ripped out, and I want to be netted in.”

Even after today's decision, the process of legalizing same-sex marriage in Alabama may take five years. That’s according to Susan Watson, Executive Director of Alabama’s ACLU. And it’s not just issues with marriage laws.

“LGBTQ people are not a protected class, so what that means is someone could get married on Saturday and get fired from their job on Monday.”

And Watson says that’s not all.

“Gay people often have problems with housing. They have problems at work. Gay people shouldn’t be fired because of who they love. They have problems being served in restaurants and even being affectionate in public. So, we’ve got a long way to go.”

Supporters of today’s high court decision plan a celebration this evening at Tuscaloosa’s Mellow Mushroom. They want to savor the victory today before facing whatever new legal wrinkles come up tomorrow.