The Alabaman Inquisition

Recently, there has been some immensely confusing rhetoric coming from the conservative right concerning LGBT rights. Over the past few weeks, perhaps the most high profile story to develop concerning the divisiveness concerning homosexual marriage rights comes out of Alabama. Amid the refusal of the Supreme Court to grant a temporary stay in the debate, the Chief Justice of Alabama, Roy Moore effectively instructed other judges in the state of Alabama to refuse to grant marriage licenses to LGBT couples. His recommendation/demand is in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States refuted previous Alabaman law concerning the definition of marriage as  one man and one woman: “Moore’s actions come despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to stay the federal ruling, effectively allowing same-sex couples to marry in the state for the first time on Monday” (Diamond 5).

This is a particularly confusing argument for several reasons. The most obvious reason is because in this wonderful land called America, federal law trumps state law. Regardless of what Moore and his conservative compatriots may think, the law of the land is clear on this very issue. Put simply, as stated in the Supremacy Clause in Article 6, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution,

“[t]his Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding,”

Marriage equality arrived in Alaska. Graphic from Washington Blade
Marriage equality arrived in Alaska. Graphic from Washington Blade

As stated by the Constitution, which is the legal framework for the entire judicial, legal, and governmental system we all belong to, the federal government always takes precedence over the whims of the state. Hilariously enough, in American history, similar debates about strong state governments have been raised before. Before America has the strong federal government it now enjoys, the founders first tried the Articles of Confederation, which was a government with a weak federal presence but a strong state presence. Keep in mind, this policy had been tried when we had only 13 states, and it failed back in the late 1700’s. Now, with 50 states, the idea that a weak federal government could sustain such a global and economic powerhouse like the U.S. is utterly preposterous. The federal government needs to be large to support the commons, such as public schools and interstate highways. Much like desegregation, Moore wants to frame LGBT rights as a “federal intrusion into state sovereignty” when in reality, the Constitution gives the federal government that very power. If the state government is pushing an ideologically driven agenda of hate and discrimination, it is the job of the federal government to step in and assert its dominance.

The other main problem with Moore’s argument is that he defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Frankly, the notion that marriage is legally defined as anything is facetious at best, and uninformed at worst. For all of their bluster, the Constitution of The United States of America makes no mention of marriage or the definition of it at all. Constitutionally speaking, marriage is left undefined. However, according to Amendment XIV, ratified in 1868, “[n]o State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any persons of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (Madison 26). Make no mistake, people like Judge Moore are “personally opposed to gay marriage and steadfastly against legalizing gay marriage, [Moore is] insisting that Alabama recognizes the ‘divine’ nature of the definition of marriage.” When the remaining 13 states choose to defer on this issue, and when states and figureheads for clandestine, discriminatory factions like Chief Justice Moore decide to litigate issues like these, they invite the Supreme Court to read the Constitution as it’s meant to be read, as a document written by people, not as a holy book written by a deity. The Constitution, the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Qur’an, along with every other sacred text, are mutually exclusive. Effectively, they’re ensuring their own defeat.

According to most religions, Christianity included,  marriage is an act between one woman and one man. Conversely, it’s just as simple to get legally married in a courthouse as it is a place of worship. Marriage is a legal covenant between two people as defined by our society. When two people get married, they may do it in a church, but when they get a divorce, they go to a judge. Marriage is a legal affair that started as religious ritual. As it has evolved along with our society, the constraints of it have changed. At one time, divorce was antithetical to Christian thought. Christians allowed (after much debate) an evolution on that thought of what defines marriage, much in the same way the (so called) definition of marriage will continue to evolve.

Only 13 states still ban gay marriage; 37 states in the Union have sided with rationality and the Constitution that no person (regardless of sexuality) should be discriminated against. There will come a point when those holdout states (it’s no surprise that 8 of those 13 states are in the South) realize that by fighting this battle, they have essentially lost. Much like the equal rights marches of the 1960’s, LBGT rights is the great civil right issue of our day; when historians write about the inevitable victories of LGBT activists, people like Chief Justice Roy Moore and his kind will realize that they were on the wrong side of this issue.

I, for one, will relish that day.

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