Sunday, March 1, 2015

Alabama and Same-Sex Marriage: The Authority of the Constitution and God

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore strongly opposes same-sex marriage. His opposition is so great, in fact, that he has stated that he would not recognize same-sex marriage in his court room. Justice Moore’s public outcry to same-sex marriage emerged on the heels of two District Court rulings that declared that Alabama’s anti-marriage laws were unconstitutional. On February 9, 2015 District Judge Granade legally recognized same-sex marriage in Alabama in two cases: Searcyv. Strange and Strawser v. Strange. Moore, however, is attempting to defy this ruling by ordering state judges to continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moore and other state officials appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay—or an application for review of a case by the Supreme Court—but were denied. In an interview, Moore asserted that the Supreme Court has no authority to rule on same-sex marriage going as far as to say that “When a word’s not in the Constitution clearly, the powers of the Supreme Court do not allow them to re-define words and seize power” (quoted in Doug 2015, 2). In Alabama, today, 11 counties still refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and 9 have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.
Defying his oath to uphold federal and state law by appealing to God constitutes excessive entanglement between religion and the government. Furthermore, it violates the First Amendment prohibition of establishment of religion. Moore, however, believes that he is not bound by the Supreme Court’s ruling and has said that if a same-sex marriage case came before him he would dissent. Moore even compared same-sex marriage to slavery, citing the Dred Scott Case in 1857, in which a Supreme Court Justice dissented against the ruling that free blacks could not be recognized as citizens. Moore appealed to Dred Scott to defend his stance on same-sex marriage, stating “They ruled black people were property. Should a court today obey such a ruling that is completely contradictory to the Constitution?” (quoted in Doug 2015, 1). In my opinion, this comparison is ridiculous and if a comparison is to be made between the two cases it would seem more viable as an appeal in favor of marriage equality.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—passed in 1996—was unconstitutional, as it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. DOMA was a federal law which holds that states can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages that were licensed under the laws of other states. This denied important financial benefits to same-sex couples which are allotted to heterosexual couples. DOMA shows that there is precedent for the federal government to define what marriage is and this recent ruling displays the authority of the Constitution.
Many, including Moore, believe that the decision of same-sex marriage should be decided by each individual state and not involve the federal government. While I think that each state should make its own choice, I believe that all states are subject to the Constitution—most importantly the equal protection clause. Furthermore, while I believe that everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, it is inappropriate for a State Supreme Chief Justice to invoke religious law over the laws of our nation, as he did when he claimed that “This power over marriage, which came from God under our organic law, is not to be redefined by the United States Supreme Court or any federal court” (quoted in Doug 2015, 3).  When it comes down to it, the laws of the United States are governed by the Constitution and not God. Madison and Jefferson were adamant concerning the necessity of the separation of church and state and they were two of the most pivotal framers of the Constitution.   
            What do you think about the Supreme Court’s authority to rule on same-sex marriage? Do you think that Chief Justice Moore’s appeal to God necessitates excessive entanglement? Or does he have the First Amendment Right of Free Exercise to justify his actions?    


Liz E said...

In my opinion, it is completely uncalled for for a judge to insert his own religious beliefs into an American court of law. To me, the constitution is the supreme law and the Supreme Court has the final decision in these issues, not some religious deity. A judge is meant to be as unbiased as possible, and directly inserting his religious beliefs into a courtroom is a complete violation of the separation of church and state and is clear excessive entanglement. I believe that the Supreme Court should have the final say and that the decision should not be shaped by anything written in a 'holy' book.

Molly H. said...

I almost laughed at how absurd Justice Moore was in this article. The man's entire job is based on the fact that he must remain a neutral party in the court of law. It is completely unjust for him to incorporate his personal religious beliefs into the entire Alabama law system. Also, this man is completely out of line for trying to push his beliefs onto other judges in surrounding areas, encouraging them to also join forces and deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moore's comparisons of same-sex marriage to slavery are completely ridiculous and should not be taken seriously. Moore signed up for a job that is clearly notorious for remaining neutral and unbiased, therefore his free exercise clause is not being violated. This is a clear example where the line of church and state needs to be clearly separated. The Supreme Court is the final say in the United State's law system, as it has been for over 200 years. I fully support the idea that the Supreme Court has the final say in all court rulings and that it has every right to determine the laws of each state if they appear to be unconstitutional.

Abby Copp said...

Just as the other two girls before me have noted, Justice Moore's actions are incorrect given his position as a high-ranking official in the judicial system. However, I do not agree with what Molly has said about how his occupation denies his free speech and free exercise rights from being considered. I agree that the laws on marriage should be decided by each state because it has traditionally been this way.

Nina N. said...

Thinking that a judge can completely dissever himself or herself from his/her personal beliefs is idealistic and naive. Everything we do is a product of our beliefs about something, and judges are not exempt from this drive simply because of their occupation. However, I would agree that in a case such as this, elevating his religious belief over a Supreme Court ruling violates his judicial duty. It is not the incorporation of his religious beliefs that is the problem, but rather the fact that he is so willing to prioritize this and think that his truth is everyone else's truth. On a similar note, he seems to be violating his legal obligation by saying such a ruling on gay marriage would only apply to the people in that case. The court system is built on a system of precedents and stating something such as this completely goes against his job description.