At about 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning, Olanda Smith and Dinha McCrayer of Bessemer became one of the first same-sex couples in Birmingham, Alabama to be married.
“I feel like I’m floating,” Smith said right after Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo officiated the ceremony in the Jefferson County Courthouse.
On Sunday, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore sent an order to state probate judges urging them to refuse to issue marriage licenses “that do not conform to Alabama law.” Many judges throughout the state went along with the order, refusing to license gay couples.
Despite this, Graffeo said, he had fully intended to marry couples on Monday. “First of all, the order was directed towards probate judges. I intended to get up and marry people and I feel like it’s in my authority to do so,” Graffeo said.
The Bessemer couple was not alone. Several dozen couples lined the halls of the courthouse to get their marriage licenses.
Before the courthouse opened Monday morning, the Human Rights Campaign held a press conference on the steps of the building along Richard Arrington Blvd.
“First, I would like to congratulate all of the couples who are getting married today. We also know the battle for equality is nowhere near over, even though Alabama has affirmed rights of LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] Americans to marry,” Ashley Jackson, state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said.
“Our work is not yet done until every LGBT American enjoys the same rights as their families, until equality is the law of the land. But today is proof is that we are well on our way,” Jackson continued before being cut off by a bystander yelling at the crowd gathered there. “You’re all an abomination,” he yelled.
A man in the audience responded, “God loves you, sir.” Besides the one man who loudly voiced his disproval, there were several others in silent protest just beyond the boundary of the press conference.
David Dinielli, the head of the LGBT Rights Project with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that this is a spectacular day for Alabama.
Having moved to Alabama only two years ago, Dinielli said that he has come to realize that Alabama is a state of love and acceptance, despite the perception held by many who do not live here.
“Today marks a day that we can all participate in Alabama’s dream, and our own dreams. We thank everyone who participated in this effort. Today is a day of celebration,” Dinielli said.
“We also have one more message, for our Chief Justice Roy Moore: Fortunately this is not Yemen, this is Alabama, one of the great states in the United States of America. We follow the rule of law. Unfortunately the Chief Justice wants to take us back in time, but we are moving forward with love and harmony and peace. And we are happy,” Dinielli continued.
Moore said Tuesday on Good Morning America that gay marriages are the precursor for marriages between family members. “Do they stop with one man and one man or one woman and one woman? Or do they go to multiple marriages? Or do they go to marriages between men and their daughters or women and their sons?” Moore said.
As couples began to line up outside the courthouse early on Monday, several ministers were nearby waiting to start the ceremonies.
Charles Perry, minister at Birmingham’s Unity Church, said he felt compelled to abstain from marrying any couples until he could marry anyone who wanted to get married. For him, Monday marked a shift toward equality for all in Alabama.
“I’m here this early because my wife got invited to speak at the press conference. We’re both ministers at the Unity Church off of Highlands Ave. and 28th Street. We have been strong supporters of marriage rights for a long time. In fact, we had made a pledge not to marry anyone in the state of Alabama until we could marry everyone. So it’s a big day for us,” Perry said.
Perry said that he has been “gay-friendly” for as long as he can remember. “I have two degrees in theater. You can’t be homophobic and work in theater. It just doesn’t work. I’ve always felt that way. When I got into the ministry, I really wanted to be supportive of everyone, that’s why I do what I do,” Perry explained.
Perry said this shift towards marriage equality was inevitable, even in Alabama. “We’ve seen the shift nationally with the numbers of people who have supported same-sex marriage. I mean, 10 years ago, the people who supported same-sex marriages were the minority, now they’re the majority.”
Like most couples on their wedding day, Joshua Lanning and Greg Mullens said they were a little nervous as they waited for the courthouse to open Monday morning.
“Besides the nerves I’m feeling right now, I’m just anticipating being married and having our relationship legalized,” Lanning said. Mullens then quipped, “We can be as miserable as everyone else now.”
Mullens, 50, and Lanning, 42, said they didn’t expect to see a day where they could be married in Alabama in their lifetime.
“It’s here and I don’t think anything will be overturned. Because Alabama, and society as a whole, is ready for it,” Lanning said.
On Monday, in a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop same-sex marriages from taking place in Alabama. Many advocates believe this to be a strongest indication yet as to how the Supreme Court will rule on states not being able to restrict same-sex couples from being married. That decision is set to take place later this year.