By Dani Blum
Despite a state motto of, “We dare defend our rights”, Alabama seems to have difficulty adhering to that principle.
This past week, gay couples across the state prepared to marry in lieu of a district court’s strike-down of Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. The US Supreme Court also upheld these marriages–or rather, refused to stop them. For many of these couples, though, these court actions were only symbolic in nature: State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered probate judges to withhold marriage licences for gay couples. “Effective immediately, no Probate Judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama Probate Judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent” with the state code, Moore wrote in an order to judges. Alabama currently has an explicitly homophobic state code, part of which reads: “Marriage is inherently a unique relationship between a man and a woman.”
Unfortunately, the perpetuation of backward policies isn’t anything new for the Heart of Dixie.Alabama hasn’t been that sweet of a home for minorities in the past: Alabama was the last state to overturn a ban on interracial marriage, finally nixing the provision in 2000. The former home of George Wallace, the Selma marches, and the Montgomery bus boycotts has had a rocky relationship with gay marriage. However, the prospect of allowing gay marriage hassteadily gained popularity in the state. According to pro-gay rights organization Freedom to Marry, 32 percent of Alabama residents currently support same-sex marriage. That percent was just 16 percent in 2004.
The situation in Alabama serves as a testament not just to the evolution of the gay marriage debate, but also as a reminder of judicial supremacy. Our country’s legal system thrives on a hierarchy of courts: without the Supreme Court carrying out its role as the highest arbiter of the Constitution, the system threatens to fold in on itself. American law has always struggled to find balance between federal and state desires–but when it comes to something as fundamental as the right to marriage, there should be no question over which aspect of federalism reigns supreme. As President Obama said in a recent Buzzfeed interview, “When federal law is in conflict with state law, federal law wins out.”
Alabama can only remain behind the times for so long. In order to do justice to itsnumerous gay residents, and to comply with the Supreme Court, the state must put aside its bigotry. For a state that claims to live up to the principles of the Founding Fathers, Alabama does a poor job of granting its constituents their fundamental rights. Either Moore and the rest of Alabama courts can live up to the state motto, or Alabama will have to start searching for another phrase to call its own.