Alabama counties slowly following marriage laws, but a majority still refusing federal ruling

By : Staff Report
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Only 23 of Alabama’s 67 counties have followed a federal ruling declaring a ban on same-sex marriages there unconstitutional. That means 44 counties—which encompasses 56% of Alabamians—have refused to follow federal law. According to the HRC, 16 counties have refused to follow the ruling and have only given marriage licenses to opposite-gender couples. Twenty-eight counties have decided not to issue marriage licenses to any couples at all.

“Alabama’s probate judges are tasked with following the law,” said Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s Legal Director. “Unfortunately, some judges are willfully disobeying a federal court order, and harming loving, committed couples of all kinds in the process. It’s time for order to be restored and for the law to be followed.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision Feb. 9 refused the state’s request for a permanent stay on a lower court’s ruling that the state’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. Same-sex couples began marrying that same day. However, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore issued an order of his own.

“Interference with the right of state courts to make independent judgments based on their own view of the U.S. Constitution is a violation of state sovereignty,” Moore wrote in the four-page letter to probate judges.

Some judges ignored the order, but a majority followed it.

This is not the first time Moore has blatantly disobeyed federal orders.

Judge Moore is often known as the “Ten Commandments Judge.” When Moore, a devout Christian who often relies on Biblical scripture in his rulings, began his judicial career as an Alabama circuit court judge in the 1990s, he placed a Ten Commandments tablet he had carved himself behind his courtroom bench and began instituting prayer before jury selection.

In 1996, a Montgomery County circuit judge ruled that prayer in the courtroom was unconstitutional and later ordered that the Ten Commandments display either be removed or placed alongside secular documents like the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. To that, Moore responded: “I will not surround the Ten Commandments with other items to secularize them. That’s putting man above God.”

But Moore eventually won out. In 1998, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuits, and the commandments stayed. And Moore’s popularity, thanks to his conservative defiance, skyrocketed. Two years later, he was elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Some of the conservative base that supports Moore this time around is the Mississippi chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. It has called for members to protest against marriage equality.

“The Mississippi Klan salutes Alabama’s chief justice Roy Moore, for refusing to bow to the yoke of Federal tyranny,” Brent Waller, the United Dixie White Knights’ imperial wizard wrote on a large, white supremacist forum. “The Feds have no authority over individual States marriage laws.”

Alabama trails the rest of the nation when it comes to views on marriage equality. In a recent survey released this week by the Public Religious Research Institute, the poll found that only 32% of Alabama residents favor marriage rights for same-sex couples. Even more—33%—strongly oppose it and a solid majority are against marriage equality.

By comparison, a poll of all Americans found that 54% support allowing same-sex marriages in the country.

Despite the controversy, some are moving forward with same-sex marriages—and paying the price.

An Alabama woman is facing a disorderly conduct charge after offering to perform a same-sex wedding inside a courthouse.

Autauga County Sheriff Joe Sedinger says the woman was arrested Feb. 10 in the probate office.

Sedinger says a dispute occurred between Probate Judge Alfred Booth and Anne Susan Diprizio, of Prattville, after two women obtained a marriage license.

The sheriff says Diprizio identified herself as a minister and offered to marry the women. But Booth hasn’t been allowing marriage ceremonies in his office since same-sex marriage became legal in Alabama.

Sedinger says the judge called deputies, who found the woman kneeling and refusing to leave in an apparent protest.

Sedinger says Diprizio is free on $1,000 bail. Court records don’t show whether she has a lawyer.

Commentators have noted that Alabama has a history of being last when it comes to social change, comparing Moore’s move to George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” in 1963 as a way to prevent racial integration.

But the Washington Post points out that this isn’t the first time Wallace’s historic stance has been invoked. In 2000, Alabama became the last state to overturn its ban on interracial marriage, despite a ruling by the Supreme Court three decades earlier. That year, more than 40% of Alabama residents voted against the repeal of the law.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear whether marriage equality is a state-by-state issue or if the entire nation must allow same-sex marriages later this summer.

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