As Alabama went through its second day in which gay marriage was on the books but largely unavailable, and aggrieved gay couples prepared for a Thursday court hearing over being denied licenses, media pundits seemed to have only one question: Is Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore a modern-day version of segregationist George Wallace?
“Roy Moore Channels George Wallace In Stand Against Marriage Equality,” said a Huffington Post headline. “Roy Moore standing in the courthouse door: Where have we seen this before?” asked opinion writer Charles J. Dean at AL.com.
Many objective-news articles, in outlets such as The Associated Press on Monday and Tuesday, invoked a comparison between Chief Justice Moore — who Sunday ordered state probate judges to obey state marriage law instead of issuing marriage licenses to gay couples as ordered by a federal court ruling — and Wallace, the state’s governor at the peak of the civil rights movement.
Wallace infamously tried to block federally imposed racial integration at the University of Alabama in 1963 by standing at the school’s doors.
However, to some black pastors, Chief Justice Moore is correctly standing up to an “unjust law.”
“Dr. [Martin Luther] King said an unjust law — you should not obey,” said the Rev. William Owens, founder and president of the Coalition of African American Pastors, referring to a passage from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
“We take the position that this [federal gay marriage ruling] is an unjust law, and we’re going to disobey it, and we’re willing to suffer the consequences. So I agree with Judge Moore. He has to take a stand,” said Mr. Owens, who marched in both the 1960s demonstrations against Jim Crow laws and, more recently, on behalf of campaigns to uphold laws that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
It’s about what “civil rights” means and who can be the heir to that movement.
Comparing the gay rights movement to historic black struggles against Jim Crow laws “is insulting; it’s belittling, and it’s demeaning,” said Minister Stacy Swimp of Greater Bible Way Temple of the Apostolic Faith and founder of Revive Alive Missional Ministry in Flint, Michigan.
First of all, being black is “immutable and not a choice,” said Mr. Swimp, who joined more than 100 black pastors in a brief filed by the Thomas More Law Center in support of Michigan’s marriage law in the DeBoer v. Snyder case.
Second, “there’s no comparison between one’s lifestyle and one’s ethnic-cultural identity,” he said, so comparing Chief Justice Moore “to George Wallace and what he did to black Americans” is “just not true.”
“I honor Judge Moore” for “upholding the rule of law and not caving in,” Mr. Swimp said.
But gay groups didn’t back off on the comparison between their campaigns for gay marriage and black efforts against Jim Crow.
“It’s raising a lot of memories of past history, where the state — rather than eagerly stepping forward to meet the civil rights question of the time — has been pulled along,” Human Rights Campaign spokesman Adam Talbot said.
Alabama was engulfed in legal confusion as the state grappled with competing legal directions on marriage.
In January, U.S. District Judge Callie Granade ruled in favor of a lesbian couple who married in California but wanted to have their marriage recognized in Alabama so that one of the two women could adopt the other’s child.
Judge Granade stayed her ruling — which legalized gay marriage in her district and, presumably, in the whole state — until Monday of this week to permit appeals by the state. Monday morning, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 not to extend the stay — sparking expectations that gay marriages would swiftly commence throughout the state.
However, on Sunday, the eve of the stay’s lapse, Chief Justice Moore issued a statement advising all probate judges that, “effective immediately,” they were not to issue any marriage licenses that didn’t conform to the state’s constitutional amendment on marriage.
Around 10 probate judges aligned their offices with Judge Granade and issued marriage licenses to gay couples. But more than 50 judges refused, some by closing their offices, some by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and some by suspending marriage licenses to anyone.
Initially, gay marriage supporters were gleeful that deeply conservative Alabama had become the 37th state to permit gay marriages.
Moreover, the Supreme Court’s refusal to keep the stay seemed to indicate the full court would legalize gay marriage later this year. “Start your wedding plans,” a Human Rights Campaign leader told gay couples in the 13 states that still define marriage as an opposite-sex union.
But that joy turned into outrage as word came that many gay couples were still turned away from Alabama marriage offices.
Four gay couples filed a lawsuit against Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis for refusing to issue them marriage licenses.
Judge Granade has now set a hearing for Thursday in their case, said the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Meanwhile, the meme that Chief Justice Moore was the new George Wallace took flight.
“There is no difference” between what Chief Justice Moore is advocating and what Wallace did in 1963, when he stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to block federally ordered black-white integration, Doug Mataconis wrote in an article published Monday by the Christian Science Monitor.
Chief Justice Moore “is trying to stand in the courthouse door as surely as Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door. Shame on him,” wrote Mr. Dean, of AL.com, also known as the Alabama Media Group.
Alabama, he added, was painted as an intolerant place in the 1960s, and “it is still an image we fight.”
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, even bought the comparison.
“I don’t want Alabama to be seen as it was 50 years ago, when a federal law was defied,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press, referring to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the passage of which is depicted in the current Oscar-nominated film “Selma,” set in Alabama.
Chief Justice Moore, however, is not budging in his position, telling ABC News correspondent Steve Osunsami that the right to redefine state marriage law “is not found within the powers designated to the federal government.”
“Do you worry that you will end up on the wrong side of history here?” Mr. Osunsami asked the jurist.
“Wrong side of history? Absolutely not,” answered Chief Justice Moore. Once marriage is redefined to ignore biological sex, what’s next, he said.
“Do they stop with one man and one man, or one woman and one woman? Or do they go to multiple marriages? Or do they go to marriages between men and their daughters, or women and their sons?”