Alabama is not immediately affected by today’s Supreme Court gay rights-related rulings, but a gay legislator from Birmingham says she and her partner now plan to file a court challenge to Alabama’s ban on gay marriage.
“With Alabama’s history, you know, it’s obvious that we never really advance any civil rights unless it’s a court decision,” said state Rep. Patricia Todd. “So we ‘re going to have to take the journey again to be able to strike down that restrictive constitutional amendment.”
Todd said she and her partner, Jennifer Clarke, had talked about filing a suit but wanted to wait until today’s Supreme Court rulings.
Around the state, Equality Alabama, a civil rights group, said it was encouraged by the high court’s decision to strike down part of a federal law that denies federal benefits to gay couples legally married in other states. Alabama Republicans expressed dismay.
The provision denying benefits was in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996. Twelve states and the District of Columbia now recognize same sex marriages, according to the Associated Press. While ruling against the benefits denial, the high court did not address gay marriage bans on the books in other states, including Alabama. Alabama’s Sanctity of Marriage amendment, approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2006, bans gay marriage in the state and does not extend legal recognition to gay marriages legally performed in other states. That ban on recognition is still part of the Defense of Marriage Act, according to the AP.
In its second ruling, according to the AP, the Supreme Court again did not address the issue of gay marriage but “left in place a trial court’s declaration” that California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional. Golden State voters approved the measure in 2008.
Todd, a Democrat who has been in the legislature since 2006, said she never thought she would see a ruling such as that issued by the Supreme Court on DOMA, and she added that the ruling should give gay marriage advocates the legal standing to “move forward to strike down” gay marriage bans now in place around the country.
Fergus Tuohy, chairman of Equality Alabama, said in a statement that the civil rights group was “encouraged” by both of the high court rulings and would hold rallies in Birmingham and elsewhere around the state in response to them.
But Tuohy also said “the fact remains that there is still much work to be done.
“As long as LGBT youth face bullying in schools and LGBT workers fear job loss simply because of who they love, we will continue to stand up for them,” he added. “Equality Alabama will continue our work until all of our LGBT brothers and sisters truly have equal protection under the law.”
The Alabama Republican Party issued a statement noting that the high court’s DOMA ruling would not “immediately affect Alabama, but it does mean that our taxpayers will now be on the hook for extending federal benefits to homosexual couples in the 12 states that allow gay marriage.”
Party chairman Bill Armistead said the ruling and its consequences showed the federal government was “hijacking marriage, a uniquely religious institution, and they must be stopped.
“Whether by a constitutional amendment or other means, U.S. taxpayers should not be forced by their government to reward those who engage in activity that had been banned in 35 states,” Armistead said. “This is a nation founded on Christian values and the Bible is very clear on marriage – one man and one woman. Alabama’s state law banning gay marriage will prevent these benefits from being extended in Alabama, but our tax dollars will still go to support a lifestyle that we fundamentally disagree with.”
Todd said she and her partner, Clarke, had a formal wedding planned in September, but may actually get married before then in Maryland, Massachusetts or another jurisdiction in which same sex marriage is legal.
In states where gay marriage bans are challenged, “you’ll hear from the opposition that this is going to be the end of moral values and blah, blah blah, the end of the world, and it’s not,” Todd said. “Change is hard for people and you know, any progressive civil rights decision takes some time for people to get comfortable with. But it always has been my point that my marriage to my partner has nothing to do with anybody else but me and my partner. And you know, all that we wanted to be able to do was go to the courthouse and get a marriage license.”