“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” These are the famous words of former Alabama Governor George Wallace during his inaugural speech in 1963. On June 11th of that year, Wallace himself blocked a door to prevent African American students from registering at the University of Alabama. President Kennedy then sent federal troops to enforce federal law and the governor grudgingly stepped aside. Since 1963, Black students have attended the University of Alabama an every other school in the country along White students, and what do you know? The sky hasn’t fallen.
It’s worth looking back at those shameful events in US history because once again, Alabama is next up in our current generation’s civil rights fight. Full equality for LGBT citizens is on the line and gay marriage is the new hotly debated issue. Once again, a federal judge has issued a ruling for equality that is causing great consternation. District Judge Callie V.S. Grande issued a ruling that called the state’s prohibition against same sex marriage unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, thus allowing Judge Grande’s order to stand. Alabama would now start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, right? Not so fast.
Enter state supreme court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore. Justice Moore issued an order to Alabama’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Apparently, Justice Moore believes that the state of Alabama has no obligation to follow the order of a federal judge. In response, some of the state’s probate judges have decided to simply stop issuing any marriage licenses. Talk about acting like petulant children rather than supposedly highly educated legal minds. Their actions scream, “If I can’t keep gays from marrying, then nobody is getting married!”
Even George Wallace didn’t decide to just close all the schools in Alabama if he had to let Black students in. The states rights crowd loves to use this anti-federal government rallying cry whenever they find a law they think offends their religious sensibilities (read bigotry). Justice Moore states emphatically that judges need not enforce laws that violate the state constitution or state law. Unfortunately, they need reminded time and again about United States law. See, our founding fathers totally understood that there would be disagreements and squabbles from time to time between states, so they told us how to handle that. Article VI of the US Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, dictates that federal law is the “supreme law of the land”. This means, sir, that when laws conflict, federal trumps state, meaning the federal judge outranks you, dude.
As much as I’d love to see National Guard troops standing at the door of an Alabama courthouse enforcing the rights of same-sex couples, it looks like that won’t be necessary. Thankfully, there are judges in the state who understand the US Constitution, and have begun issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Kudos to those wise justices who have decided to be on the right side of history. As for Chief Justice Moore, the people of Alabama have shown him the door before, and should do so again at the ballot box. I don’t think the citizens of Alabama want their state to be seen as the symbol of bigotry yet again. Maybe someone will write a song supporting tolerance this time. Something like: I hope Judge Moore will remember, fair-minded folks don’t need him around anyhow.