For more than 20 years, conservative Christians have been building the case that laws protecting gay people and legalizing same-sex marriage place an unconstitutional burden on the rights of religious people who believe homosexuality is a sin. The biggest problem with this argument is that they used it to justify slavery. They used it to justify segregation. They used it to justify bans on interracial marriage. They used it against teaching evolution in schools. They’ve used it over and over again to use the Bible to back up bigotry and ignorance. I don’t understand the Jesus that they claim to follow. He’s not the Jesus in my Bible, and if they’d look, he’s not the Jesus in theirs either.

Thankfully, the courts appear unconflicted on this issue. Last week, conservative Christians suffered two more defeats in a nearly unbroken string of legal losses over the last decade.

First came the ruling of Judge David L. Bunning of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Kentucky, who ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to issue state marriage licenses to all qualified couples who seek them. Davis is “certainly free to disagree with the Court’s decision, as many Americans likely do,” Bunning wrote, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage. “But that does not excuse her from complying with it.”

Then, in Colorado, the Court of Appeals weighed in on a case that has been brewing since 2012, when David Mullins, Charlie Craig, and Craig’s mother visited a bakery near their home and tried to buy a cake for a reception celebrating the couple’s upcoming marriage in Massachusetts. (At the time, Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriages.) Jack Phillips, the evangelical owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop — who also won’t bake Halloween cookies or erotic pastries — told the couple he does not create wedding cakes for same-sex weddings because of his religious beliefs.

Phillips’ legal team, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group based in Arizona, argued that Phillips’ decision to turn down the couple was protected by the First Amendment. But the Colorado Court of Appeals disagreed. The bakery, like Kim Davis, “remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage,” the court explained in its ruling last Thursday. However, if Phillips wishes to run the bakery as a public business, Colorado’s anti-discrimination law “prohibits it from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation.”

Before I go any further, let me just say that any public business that refuses to serve someone because of their own bigotry (it is not “religious freedom”), then they should have their business license revoked. Furthermore, and I can’t say this strongly enough, I DO NOT WANT TO DO BUSINESS WITH BIGOTS!!! I refuse to give my business to anyone who I know supports anti-gay organizations or spew their own hatred. It’s why I refuse to watch A&E television because they continue to show Duck Dynasty. It is why I refuse to patronize Chik-fil-A. Furthermore, it is why I will not patronize any business in an Alabama county whose probate judge refuses to issue marriage licenses.

Here’s where I see a problem. I can’t do this alone. One person boycotting won’t do it. But once again, Alabama is being forgotten. The bakery case has been going on for some time, so I’m not going to address that further, but the news media is latching on to this one Kentucky clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses when there are FOURTEEN probate judges in Alabama refusing to issue marriage licenses. And if you are a regular reader of my blog, then you know the reason for this is a loophole in the Alabama Constitution that is a mistake. It says probate judges “may” issue marriage licenses, when it should have read “shall.” Common law and precedent should overrule where probate judges who are latching on to this one word: MAY. Never in the one hundred and fourteen years of the Alabama Constitution has any probate judge in Alabama deemed fit to use this loophole. Not even when interracial marriage became legal did they use it, and this is Alabama we are talking about. Alabama used other tactics to prevent interracial marriage, which President Nixon finally forced them to comply.

I had a conversation yesterday with the Campaign for Southern Equality, a small but diligent organization fighting for LGBT equality in the South. They contacted me since I had signed a petition for them earlier this year and asked if I would discuss with them the political climate of Alabama. I had a wonderful talk with Lindsey Simerly of CSE and have an even greater respect for their diligence than before, and I already respected them a lot. They are concerned about Alabama’s probate judges, and they want to help force them to comply. I personally believe that now is the time to push the fact that up to fourteen probate judges are not doing their job. I tried to check on one of the counties for them and see if they were issuing marriage licenses, but was unable to get a clear answer. What I did find out though is that their website says that the probate judges office is responsible for marriage licenses. If it is their responsibility then it sounds like an obligation that they are admitting to and not one that they “may” do or “may not” do. They even list the fees for performing weddings.

I think the climate in Alabama may be right, but for how long, I don’t know. Right now, the Governor is using language that can be used to either get him to force the judges to comply or show what a complete hypocrite he actually is. Let me explain why I say this. The Alabama Legislature has one constitutional duty, pass a budget. They failed to do so in the regular session, and they failed to do so in the special session. Governor Bentley has stated that, “If you stand up and lead, people will vote for you. If you don’t do that, then you might get beat. And…the people who are not willing to do what is needed for the people of this state need to get beat.”. Bentley is basically saying that the legislature has a job that they aren’t doing, and they need to be voted out. The same is true of these fourteen probate judges, they have a job that they aren’t doing. If Bentley wants to allow probate judges not to do their job, then how can he turn around and criticize the legislature for not doing theirs, and vice versa. Same for the people of Alabama. They can’t grumble about the legislature not doing their one job, yet allow probate judges to refuse to do theirs.

The point is: one clerk in Kentucky, fourteen judges in Alabama. Tell me where the real problem is. It’s in Alabama, not with some pissant clerk in Kentucky who is on a power trip. It’s going to take organization to put Alabama probate judges in their place. Pike County is one of the most vocal about not allowing marriage licenses because the probate judge doesn’t want to issue same sex marriage licenses. Troy University is one of Alabama’s major universities. Troy is a university of nearly 20,000 students and 700 faculty and staff. Not to mention that the University serves the educational needs of students in four Alabama campuses, sixty teaching sites in 17 U.S. States and 11 countries. Troy University’s graduates number more than 100,000 alumni representing all 50 states and from numerous foreign countries. Troy University is known as Alabama’s International University for its extensive international program in attracting foreign students from around the world. What’s it going to look like when foreign students find out their university is in such a hostile environment. Troy University should be putting major pressure on the probate judge and on the county’s economy. They have the resources to do it. But they haven’t said a word as far as I know.

We can’t let these fourteen judges get away with this bigotry.
PS I am feeling better and more hopeful.  Thank you for all your love and support.

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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