Alabama judges are invoking Jim Crow laws to avoid issuing marriage licenses

In case there was any confusion about the fact that social conservatives’ massive resistance to same-sex marriage is a direct descendant of their massive resistance against racial equality in the Civil Rights Era (from the Associated Press):

As Alabama’s all-white Legislature tried to preserve racial segregation and worried about the possibility of mixed-race marriages in 1961, lawmakers rewrote state law to make it optional for counties to issue marriage licenses.

Now, some judges who oppose same-sex marriage are using the long-forgotten amendment to get out of the marriage business altogether rather than risk issuing even one wedding license to gays or lesbians. In at least nine of Alabama’s 67 counties, judges have quit issuing any marriage licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions in June.

Move over, Kentucky. Alabama’s wayyyy ahead of you when it comes to codifying the right to discriminate. By changing one word in their statutes regarding the issuance of marriage licenses — “shall” issue became “may” issue — they made it legal for county officials to decide whether they would issue marriage licenses at all. They didn’t “discriminate,” per se, they just effectively gave each county an up or down choice as to whether to execute a function they had otherwise been assigned. And officials in those counties made that choice based on whether they’d be comfortable doing their jobs when it meant serving those people.

In theory, this law could allow every county in Alabama to stop issuing marriage licenses. In practice, it is already creating an undue and almost certainly illegal burden for Alabaman couples:

Gay marriage via Shutterstock

Gay marriage via Shutterstock

“It is a religious freedom issue, but more than that I believe it is a constitutional issue,” said Williams, who last month cited the arrest of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in asking the Alabama Supreme Court to declare that officials don’t have to allow same-sex marriage if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Like Davis, Williams said he would go to jail before he would approve a marriage license for a gay or lesbian.

Judges in three adjoining counties stopped issuing licenses for similar reasons, creating a region in southwestern Alabama where marriage licenses aren’t available for 78,000 people. As a result, Bo Keahey and fiance Hannah Detlefsen will have to spend nearly two hours on the road traveling to and from Monroe County before their November wedding because their native Clarke County has quit issuing licenses.

Taken together with Alabama’s recent move to shutter drivers license bureaus in nearly half of their counties — with the closings having a disproportionate effect on its African-American population and making it harder for them to acquire required forms of ID for voting — it appears as though the state’s government is in a period of social and political retreat. Rather than let LGBT couples get married and black people vote, many in state and local governments are simply willing to shut down the governmental functions that make such activities possible, daring these minority groups to stop them.

They do know how this story ends, right?


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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