Sorry, Judge — You Can't Just Ignore Marriage Equality

Photo: Brynn Anderson/AP Photo.
I guess desperate times really do call for desperate measures. This week, Roy S. Moore—the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court—ordered probate judges under his jurisdiction not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Despite the fact that the United States Supreme Court ruled last year that bans against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, Moore has not only insisted that judges in his state don’t have to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling, but directly ordered them not to.

My oh my, anti-gay conservatives are getting daring. At least one Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, has vowed that if elected, he would not follow the Supreme Court’s ruling. “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch,” Huckabee said in June, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Huckabee seems to have forgotten that those same founders are the ones who created the Supreme Court and vested in it the ultimate authority to determine the constitutionality—or unconstitutionality—of laws. The founders didn’t consider the Supreme Court imperial. Instead, they designed it as an imperative legal check against the political and personal whims of politicians.

Make no mistake about it: The whims of the likes of Huckabee and Moore are under attack. Feminism, gay rights, religious pluralism, and the overall slow but certain rise of equality in America has eroded the traditional concept of family. This notion held that men are conventionally masculine and unchallenged in their dominance, women are the submissive property of their husbands, and procreation is the primary purpose — all tightly controlled by government policies that sanction normative family forms and don’t recognize any others. Most Americans are cheering this evolution—even 64% of evangelical millennials support marriage equality—not only because they support gay rights, but they also oppose the narrow, constricting, and frankly imperial vision of family to which Huckabee, Moore, and others seem to cling.

Fine, this is America, you can cling to whatever you want. You just can’t break the law—especially, say, not if you’re a judge or a president or some other sort of government authority sworn to uphold it.

In objecting strenuously to Moore’s orders, the chief federal prosecutors in Alabama said just that: “Government officials are free to disagree with the law, but not to disobey it. This issue has been decided by the highest court in the land and Alabama must follow that law.” Could that be any more simple? The same was true for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It was absolutely within her right to personally object to marriage equality. It was not, however, okay for her to not do her job and violate the law as an agent of the court.

By the same token, if I were a county clerk in a state with open carry laws, whatever my personal views on the ridiculousness of letting people openly pack heat in a Chipotle, I’d still have to issue those licenses since that would be my job. If I didn’t want to do my job based on my objection to open carry licenses, well… I’d have to get another job!

Perhaps Justice Moore should consider a new line of work. After all, Moore previously refused to obey a federal court order to take down a display of the Ten Commandments that he had commissioned for his courtroom. He was subsequently removed from his position by a state judicial panel, though he won re-election back to the post. Nor, incidentally, is this the first time Alabama has tried to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling. Most notably, after Brown v. Board of Education, Alabama legislators passed a series of laws attempting to maintain racial segregation within the state’s schools. These laws were also ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.

But again, desperate times and all that. The idea that the job of a chief justice is to actually uphold the law seems rather crazy in this climate. For God’s sake, gay couples are getting married and securing mortgages, fighting over what to make for dinner and who should take out the garbage, and civilization as we know it is about to crumble. We can’t have gay people getting married. Next thing you know, women will want to vote and Black people will want to use the same bathrooms as white people. And then what kind of world will we be living in!?

Oh, right: An equal one. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
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