The threat of gay marriage in Alabama has roused governor George Wallace to rise from the dead and stand again in the schoolhouse door. When Roy Moore, chief justice of the state supreme court, flung himself last week between a federal judge in Mobile and the local bureau which issues marriage licenses, he was enacting the ancient ritual of interposition.
It prepared for the Civil War by asserting that states could ignore and obstruct federal law they disliked. Governor Wallace cited interposition in his seething speeches and embodied it when he theatrically blocked the entrance to the University of Alabama in l963 to keep darkies out—for a few extra minutes. President Kennedy had taken command of the state’s national guard and those troops were under orders to protect the two Negro students registering that day. But Wallace’s spectacle of sham defiance lasted just long enough for photos of a pose that still defines his legacy.
These photos have been back in the news because chief justice Moore struck a similar pose by instructing probate judges statewide to defy a January ruling from U.S. district judge Ginny Granade legalizing same-sex marriage in Alabama, contrary to state law.
Rather than comply either with the state chief justice or the federal judge, Mobile probate judge Don Davis shut the section of his office issuing marriage licenses, denying the bliss of wedlock (or the tax and other advantages at least) to all couples—gay, straight and otherwise.
Before an overflow crowd in judge Granade’s courtroom a few days ago lawyers for unmarried same-sex pairs asked her to order the probate judge to hitch them. Judge Davis’s lawyer then dragged the unwon Vietnam war onto the stage beside the ghost of governor Wallace. He said the probate judge was tormented by conflicting mandates. The federal court was telling him to let these couples say I do, while the state’s head judge was telling him no they don’t. This put the probate judge, according to his attorney, in the dilemma of a soldier in Vietnam who has stepped on a land mine in a rice paddy. Continue standing on it and a sniper will shoot you in the head. Step off it and be blown to bits.
This attorney insisted that the Mobile probate court had taken no position for or against same-sex marriage. Judge Davis merely sought guidance. The attorney repeated this on the courthouse steps after the hearing by judge Granade ended. But when a reporter asked if this meant the probate judge would comply with whatever the federal court ordered, the answer wasn’t quite yes. It was that judge Davis would study any order issued and then decide his course.
Hovering nearby was Dean Young, who has also been hovering close to Roy Moore for twenty years. That was when Moore catapulted to notoriety by running his local north Alabama court in a medieval manner that melded prayer and biblical commandments with the latter day law of legislatures and court cases. As Moore ascended toward election to the state supreme court Young accompanied him as a campaign operative.
Even some of Moore’s fellow jurists on the supreme court shied away from him when he stealthily installed a giant granite replica of Moses’s 10 Commandments in the rotunda of the judicial headquarters in Montgomery. Moore was stripped of his judicial robe and evicted from the building for defying a federal court order to remove the big commandment rock that symbolized church and state shacking up.
But Dean Young remained faithful. And by the time Moore achieved political resurrection by reelection as chief justice Young had installed himself as a leading edge on the Tea Party wing of the south Alabama Republicans. He recently gave the establishment wing a scare by running a close primary election race against their candidate for the Mobile area’s reserved Republican seat in Congress. And Young has been a strident leader of the campaign to adorn local courthouses with the plaque In God We Trust.
He coyly calls this simply the official motto of the United States. It appears on our currency. How could anybody object to its appearance also on public buildings?
But this God is not just some vaporous higher power. It is the fundamentalist Christian God of Dean Young, judge Roy Moore and their political congregation. Ask them whether, in tribute to the diversity of the local population, they would be willing to remove the In God We Trust plaques periodically and substitute phrases of obeisance to Allah or Buddha or the Great Spirit or whoever. Then you will learn their true motives in branding courthouses with the name of their God.
So Dean Young, in response to a reporter, was giving a tactical version of the truth on the courthouse steps when he said that no ruling by a federal judge here about the Mobile probate court would apply statewide. That could happen only when the federal appeals court and then the US supreme court had ruled, he said.
Does this mean, he was asked, that when the supreme court rules—as is likely—that all Alabama probate courts must issue same-sex marriage licenses, you and judge Moore will accept such a decision? No it doesn’t, he immediately replied (revealing that his previous argument was only a procedural dodge), because the federal courts have no jurisdiction over state marriage law.
Now chief justice Moore and his claque must decide whether to take their own stand in the courthouse door. Just in time for Valentine’s Day federal judge Granade issued her ruling: the Mobile probate judge must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He complied but the intentions in other resistant counties are unclear. Some of those probate judges may cling to the chief justice’s Lost Cause.
Interposition. That’s what this line always circles back toward. The damn federal government can’t tell me how to live, by God!
But if the federal government says you must send your children off to war, then you must. And if the federal government says you must accept shipments of dangerous substances through your neighborhoods and your port, then you must. But to the extent that anybody does not resemble us Tea Partiers, something is wrong with them. Their attempt to be and live different can’t be accepted and must be suppressed. And the damn federal government can’t interfere with our desires about this, by God!
Small wars can escalate to big, but this slope isn’t too slippery to step on. Although occasional small shipments of hazardous stuff might turn into routine big ones, this slippery slope shouldn’t stop the shipments from starting. But chief justice Moore says that if same sex marriages are allowed, next will come fathers wanting to wed their daughters, mothers their sons, then…………….. Straight to the pits of Hell! What other destination could there be?
Harem Scare Em
Before the eternal afterlife there might be an actual earthly destination deriving from the redefinition of marriage: harems. Whether bi- or same-sexual, marriage confined to couples promotes democracy and equality. It hardly guarantees a society will have these traits, but does guard against the heaping of excess by some and the deprivation of others.
The chasm appearing between the 1% (or the 0.1%) and all the rest produces not only torrents of wealth on one side of that divide and trickle down dribbles on the other. It also leads toward the accumulation of people. Outright slavery is rare now and polygamy uncommon (in the West at least). But the term trophy wife describes what happens when men with more money than they need go hunting for stuff beyond property and machinery to display their prowess. (A boy toy might be the female equivalent.)
As this chasm becomes an enduring social structure it will lure those on the favored side to seek full enjoyment of their blessings. It would be quite convenient for them if marriage has been removed from the one-man-one-woman mold and allowed to take other shapes. They would be receptive to—and could deploy their money to foster the creation of—movements making polygamy respectable again.
Harems have a long history. They tend to appear when men (it usually is) of great wealth wish to reward themselves for their good fortune. This leaves men without wealth without women either.
When the Tea Party fundamentalists start making arguments like this against the redefinition of marriage, you will know The Revolution is at hand.
Meanwhile, they are merely raising theocratic complaints—like Taliban and Islamic State sorts also do—designed to herd the rest of us into bowing down to their God. Which means, in practice, bowing down to them.
DAVID UNDERHILL, an occasional contributor to CounterPunch, lives in Mobile, Alabama. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.