Who Will Officiate?

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Alabama’s gay marriage ban may end on February 9, 2015, or possibly before if the current stay is not continued or is lifted early by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. For now, the decision is on hold and the delay could be extended by the 11th Circuit, as the state has requested. The U.S. Supreme Court has said it would decide whether same-sex marriage should be allowed nationwide, and a decision is likely by late June. The question some media outlets are now asking is who will perform same-sex weddings?

The Alabama Chief Justice and some local judges are advocating anarchy with with attempts to ignore the federal courts. Alabama’s Chief Justice Roy Moore is leading the charge in the letter he wrote to Gov. Robert Bentley, asking him to defy the federal court ruling against Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban. This is deja vu all over again. The last time Moore was on the court in 2002 he was removed due to his refusal to take down the massive Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the state judicial building. Now, as before, Moore is facing a judicial ethics complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Furthermore, a number of judges have decided to quit performing marriages. Geneva County’s probate judge Fred Hamic has performed over 1,000 weddings during his seven year tenure, stating they are his favorite part of the job. But Hamic who claims to be a Christian says that he plans to quit performing the ceremonies if same-sex marriage begins in Alabama. Madison County’s probate office in Huntsville said last week it would quit performing marriages but cited personnel shortages, not gay marriage, as the reason. I doubt anyone believes that as the real reason. Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed said he’ll marry anyone, straight or gay, but most state judges are up in the air about performing marriages. While Alabama law requires probate courts to issue marriage licenses, judges and other court officials have the option of whether to perform wedding ceremonies.

Many churches already ban gay weddings, so same-sex courthouse ceremonies became a real possibility for the state’s 68 probate judges when a federal judge in Mobile ruled Jan. 23 that the state’s constitutional and statutory ban on gay marriages violates the U.S. Constitution.

Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris, president of the state probate judge’s association, said he hasn’t heard of any judge who would refuse a wedding license to a same-sex couple if the decision by U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade is upheld or the U.S. Supreme Court permits gay marriage. But many probate judges — who are elected and sometimes also serve as county commission chairs — are on the fence about whether to perform same-sex ceremonies, said Norris.

At least the State Health Department which maintains the Department of Vital Statistics is getting ready for the change. While the state is appealing Granade’s order, health officials and the probate judge’s group already are considering how to alter Alabama marriage licenses in case same-sex marriages can begin, Norris said. The forms currently refer to “bride” and “groom” and will likely have to be reprinted, he said.

Even if judges refuse to perform wedding or church organizations ban same-sex marriages to be performed, many other ordained ministers will marry same-sex couples. I have been ordained as a minister of the Universal Life Church, Modesto, California, and am therefore in good standing to marry anyone in the state of Alabama. The only requirement is that I must charge at least $1 to perform the wedding. So when (not if) the stay is lifted in Alabama, I will gladly marry anyone who would like me to perform the ceremony.

Moore can call for the Alabama judiciary to ignore a federal court ruling (which hopefully will get him removed from the bench a second time for ethics violations), judges across the state can refuse to perform weddings, and ministers can refuse as well, but same-sex couples will be married someday soon in the state of Alabama. Progress and equality will not be stopped, no matter how hard some may try.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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