Marriage Rights in Alabama

“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, Loving vs. Virginia, 1967. The decision struck down state laws against interracial marriage.

Same-sex couples had a small few window of a few weeks, in a handful of Alabama counties to legally marry this winter.

Those rights were suspended last night by an emergency ruling by the Alabama State Supreme Court.

We march for civil rights. We march for the right to marry. We are in solidarity with those Alabama families who seek to protect their loved ones with the rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

On February 9, the order from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama took effect on the Searcy and Strawser decisions. Same-sex marriage was legal throughout the state of Alabama, and the Department of Public Health provided marriage license applications with “spouse and spouse” where “bride and groom” had once been.

Some counties refused to comply with the federal court order, and the state was suddenly a patchwork; counties where probate judges were willing to issue same-sex marriage licenses and and those where probate judges pushed back against the federal ruling as an infringement of state rights to define marriage.  While the local resistance was confusing and disappointing, seeing Searcy and Strawser prevail in the heart of Dixie was a stirring reminder of how far marriage equality has come in the last decade.

On the night of March 3, the Alabama Supreme Court made a last-ditch effort to stop same-sex marriage in the state, saying that they reject the federal district court’s authority and will only submit to the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court. While this Supreme Court isn’t one known for its liberal bias, in the years since the  Windsor and DOMA rulings, marriage equality has marched on at the ballot boxes, in the state courts, in the federal circuits, and in the state legislatures.

On the one hand, I guess you can expect some bellicose states’ rights obstructionism; it is Alabama. On the other hand, we’re only eleven years out from when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom granted same-sex marriage licenses to thousands of couples, the California Supreme Court had a conniption, the right to marriage equality in California was rescinded and the whole state had to go through the valley of the shadow of Prop. 8, before finally adopting marriage equality. Eleven years is near-warp speed when it comes to civil rights; I hope that the same-sex couples still hoping to marry in Alabama have some forbearance while this last-ditch obstruction gets sorted out, quite likely by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Keep the faith. It was in 2000, thirty-three years after the Loving ending state bans on interracial marriage that the ban on interracial marriage enshrined in the Alabama state constitution was repealed.


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