The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has denied the state’s request for a stay in the federal ruling that struck down Alabama’s ban on gay-marriage.
This means on Feb. 9, gay couples will be able to walk into the Birmingham Courthouse and apply for marriage licenses. Feb. 9 marks the expiration of the two-week stay ordered by U.S. District Judge Callie Granade after her ruling to overturn Alabama’s ban on gay marriage on Jan. 24.
In the days that followed Granade’s ruling, there has been widespread opposition from Alabama politicians and lawyers alike. Just hours after Granade’s ruling, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange filed a motion opposing the ruling and requesting a stay until the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage later this year. However, on Tuesday, the request was denied.
“In addition, if the action is not stayed, Defendant and the State of Alabama will suffer irreparable harm if marriages are recognized on an interim basis that are ultimately determined to be inconsistent with Alabama law, resulting in confusion in the law and in the legal status of marriages. Granting a stay will not harm the Plaintiffs, but would only maintain the status quo while these issues are considered by the appellate courts,” the motion states.
There has been a lot of focus on the reaction of Alabama lawmakers in the wake of the ruling, but what does this mean for gay couples living in a state that many advocates believed would be among the last to allow same-sex marriage?
Joe Babin and Clay Jones are two men who have every intention of being married on Feb. 9. Chances are, as many advocates believe, they will not be alone.
Babin and Jones are a gay couple who live here in Birmingham. Jones, who owns Orbit Salon in Five Points South, and Babin, the salon’s general manager, have been together for 12 years now and are anxiously anticipating the opportunity to be wed on Feb. 9. “We just want to get married first and then throw a party later,” Babin said.
“We’ve been together since 2003. So that’s more than a lot of marriages last already. It’s kind of unfortunate that we’re just now going to be able to say we’re married when really it’s like we’ve been married for 12 years already,” Babin said while sitting in the lounge area at the salon.
Both say they were surprised when the news about the federal ruling broke a few weeks ago. “Clay kind of got teary eyed,” Babin said.
“Did I?” Jones asked. “Well, maybe a little, I guess. I just thought Alabama would go along with it when the Supreme Court made every state comply. And I actually I wouldn’t be surprised even if the Supreme Court approved gay marriage if the state still fought it and said they weren’t going to marry gay couples.” While guarded, however, Jones remains optimistic.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed an ethics complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Commission against Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has been outspoken since the ruling, and who categorized Granade’s decision as “tyranny.”
The SPLC complaint states that, “Specifically, Chief Justice Moore, writing on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead, instructs Governor Bentley that the definition of marriage is biblical and therefore beyond the reach of the United States Constitution; declares all contrary federal court orders to be ‘specious’ pretext intended to bring about the ‘destruction of that institution.’”
Asked what he thought about the state lawmakers’ opposition to the decision, Babin and Jones both say it’s just par for the course in Alabama. “He’s just propagating hatred and promoting his own beliefs,” Babin said, referring to Moore. “It really comes down to the old church and state argument. Are we a church country or are we a state country?”
Jones followed, saying, “If that’s your platform and that is your belief structure, I think it’s hard a lot of the time for those people to realize, if you don’t give people equal rights you’re sort of saying those people are lesser than you are. And by that you’re condoning negative actions to be taken towards those people.”
They also commented that, despite being in the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” Birmingham has always been very accepting towards the gay community, and even elected Alabama’s first openly gay state legislator, Rep. Patricia Todd (D).
“I just think the gay people today are not having to go through what people were 20 years ago,” Jones said. “We’ve been able to live our lives and represent ourselves and our community relatively well. We live in a world where we seldom have to give much thought to it,” Jones said.
Babin added that it’s strange that Alabama lawmakers focus on it so much, when in their “bubble” they are just living their lives. “In our bubble, around here and around friends, it’s not even an issue. They know we’re a couple and we’re treated that way,” Babin said.
Perhaps more importantly for Jones and Babin, Tuesday’s decision by the appellate court means that they can move forward with the process of adopting a child as a married couple.
“The week before all this broke out, when we inquired about adoption, Clay was going to adopt and I was going to have to be the roommate,” Babin said, explaining that a lot of complications can arise from this sort of arrangement, things like hospital visitation rights, doctors’ appointments and issues that may be harmful for the well-being of a child.
“But now we can adopt as a couple,” Babin said. “And that really is our main focus.”
It’s still early in the process for Babin and Jones, but they said a lot of adoption agencies are “church-oriented” and may be reticent about allowing a gay couple to adopt. That’s why they have been looking into private adoption. Also, they added, it’s much cheaper than going through an agency.
“We have the best social worker, and she’s been helping us through the whole thing. There is an unbelievable amount of paperwork that goes into this, which is a good thing,” Babin explained.
“Even if we were a straight couple, for us, personally, marriage isn’t the main thing. Because we’re not religious, so it’s not for us a holy union, but it’s definitely a right I think we should have,” Babin said, “It’s just the natural progression of things and we’re ready to raise a child.”
Unless the Supreme Court overturns the decision between now and Feb. 9 — which is considered unlikely, given that the high court has not ruled on any other state’s decision to allow same-sex marriage — Babin and Jones believe they may be one of the first gay couples in Alabama to formally apply for adoption as a married couple.