HISTORY MADE: Same-sex couples gain marriage rights nationwide

Published 4:00 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court voted to give same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. People celebrate in front of the Supreme Court after Friday’s early-morning ruling.

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court voted to give same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. People celebrate in front of the Supreme Court after Friday’s early-morning ruling.

By Scottie Brown and the Associated Press.


Same-sex couples won the right to marry nationwide Friday as a divided Supreme Court handed a crowning victory to the gay rights movement.

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“No longer may this liberty be denied,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The vote was narrow — 5-4 — but Kennedy’s majority opinion was clear and firm: “The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.”

The ruling will put an end to same-sex marriage bans in the 14 states that still maintain them, including Alabama.

However, it didn’t change the opinion of Pike County Judge Wes Allen, who said he would continue to “opt out” of issuing marriage licenses rather than be forced to obey a law that conflicts with his personal beliefs.

“I am saddened that the United States Supreme Court ruled as they did but this ruling does not invalidate Alabama Code Section 30-1-9, which states ‘Marriage licenses may be issued by the judges of probate of the several counties,’” Allen said. “The word ‘may’ provides probate judges with the option of whether or not to engage in the practice of issuing marriage licenses and I have chosen not to perform that function. My office discontinued issuing marriage licenses in February, and I have no plans to put Pike County back into the marriage business. The policy of my office regarding marriage is no different today than it was yesterday.”

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama, which has provided legal guidance and liability coverage to judges during a twisting legal fight over gay marriage, sent probate judges a memo suggesting that judges take applications but not issue the licenses on Friday as lawyers review the ruling.

“We’ve just suggested for this one afternoon, as remarkable as this one afternoon is, we don’t see any harm in doing all due diligence before moving forward,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the group. Brasfield said he presumes that their advice on Monday will be to issue licenses.

The ruling drew a split decision at the Supreme Court, as well, as the four dissenters accused their colleagues of usurping power that belongs to the states and to voters, and short-circuiting a national debate about same-sex marriage.

“This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent. Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.

“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Roberts said. “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

Justice Antonin Scalia said he was not concerned so much about same-sex marriage as “this court’s threat to American democracy.” He termed the decision a “judicial putsch.” Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented.

Several religious organizations criticized the decision.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was “profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.”

Kennedy said nothing in the court’s ruling would force religions to condone, much less perform, weddings to which they object. And he said the couples seeking the right to marry should not have to wait for the political branches of government to act.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex couples to marry on the same basis as heterosexuals, he said

In Alabama, several public officials said the new law conflicts with their personal beliefs, but most pledged to uphold the ruling.

Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement he was disappointed in the ruling but he urged Alabamians to obey and uphold the law.

“I have always believed in the Biblical definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman,” Bentley said. “That definition has been deeply rooted in our society for thousands of years. Regardless of today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, I still believe in a one man and one woman definition of marriage. The people of Alabama also voted to define marriage as between a man and woman.  I always respect the people’s vote, and I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has disregarded the choice made by the people of Alabama in its decision today … We will always obey the law. We will follow the rule of law.”

Alabama Attorney Luther General echoed Bentley’s sentiments saying that while he did not agree with the ruling, the decision is now the rule of the land.

“While I do not agree with the opinion of the majority of the justices in their decision, I acknowledge that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling is now the law of the land,” Strange said. “Short of the passage of a Constitutional Amendment protecting marriage as between one man and one woman, the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say. But while the states are now required to recognize same-sex marriage, I expect the focus will now turn to the exercise of one’s religious liberty.”

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said Alabama’s landslide 81 percent vote to uphold the sanctity of marriage was buried by the 5-4 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“With the decision of the United States Supreme Court today to remove state barriers for the implementation of same-sex marriage in America, Alabama’s 2006 Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which was approved by a landslide 81 percent of the vote of our people, was ignored and buried,” Lathan said. “Our country is a republic and our state’s rights should be upheld, but Alabama was told today by five judges in Washington, D.C. that our voices are mute and the 697,591 Alabamians that voted and made our state’s decision to deny marriage licenses to members of the same sex is null and void. Our boundaries have been breached once again by the overreaching hand of the federal judicial system.”

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said he was “saddened for the future of our country.”

“They’ve just disregarded everything that precedent holds, and they’ve destroyed the foundation of our country, which is family,” Moore said.

Moore stopped short of calling for direct resistance, but said states can fight the ruling, as they have decisions allowing slavery or abortion.

“The states can do something about this. They’ve done something about things like Dred Scott and Plessy versus Ferguson. There’s been an uproar continually about Roe versus Wade in 1973. This is a religious battle that is just beginning,” Moore said.

There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.

The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights, and Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2012.

The states affected by Friday’s ruling are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.