Gay marriage is now legal in Alabama. In a 5 to 4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday states can’t stop same-sex couples from marrying and must recognize those unions across the country.
When Erik Obermiller heard the news, he started crying.
Obermiller and his husband David Roby are already legally married. They were among the first couples to get married after a lower court ruling earlier this year briefly allowed same-sex marriage in Alabama. Obermiller says this decision grants him and Roby freedoms they didn’t have before.
“In a lot of ways, we now have the freedom to go wherever we want without the fear of a rebuttal of our commitment to one another, so it means a lot,” said Obermiller.
Shortly after the decision was announced, one protester stood outside the Jefferson County courthouse in downtown Birmingham
He wore a sandwich board and waved a Bible.
Nearby a small crowd of gay marriage supporters, mostly couples with children, drank sparkling grape juice. Eva Walton Kendrick, an organizer for Human Rights Campaign Alabama, says they toasted to equality.
“And to our love being recognized in Alabama, our families being equal in Alabama, and all of the possibilities that all of us never thought could actually happen, actually being realized today and every day forward,” said Kendrick.
Reaction from State Leaders
Alabama’s top Republicans disagreed with the ruling. Governor Robert Bentley said he still believes marriage is between one man and one woman. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange is disappointed but agreed the court’s ruling is now law.
Jefferson and Montgomery counties are issuing licenses, but many probate judges said they were reviewing the decision. Geneva County’s judge says he will not issues marriage licenses until he receives direction from the state. And Pike County’s probate office says it was getting out of the marriage business altogether.
Religious organizations are concerned about what the ruling means for them.
“There is going to come a day when to preach and speak against homosexuality is considered hate speech and pastors could be arrested,” said Joe Godfrey. He’s the Executive Director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, a group that lobbies on moral issues and is supported largely by Southern Baptist congregations.
Heads of religious colleges and institutions are also worried they might lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to accommodate same-sex couples.
“For most people, this opinion will be about gay marriages. For the justices this opinion was about who should decide about gay marriage,” said Samford University law professor David Smolin. He says this decision creates further legal questions. For instance, issues relating to religious adoption agencies, a same-sex couple’s right to children and potentially surrogacy and the role of religious freedom.
He says gay marriage is new legal territory.
“It’s a social experiment and we have never done it before on a mass basis,” said Smolin. “So I don’t think anyone knows what is going to mean for a long long time.”
This decision settled the question of gay marriage, but many details remain.
Research help from Stephanie Beckett