The N.C. Religious Freedom Restoration Act, legislation similar to Indiana’s so-called “religious freedom” law, has been introduced in both the North Carolina state House (HB 348) and state Senate (SB550). The legislation could allow for discrimination against LGBT individuals and other groups.
“I hope Governor McCrory and elected officials in North Carolina have learned that discrimination is bad for business and that they avoid making the same mistake as Indiana,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality and a minister in the United Church of Christ. “Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our country, but discrimination is not. These harmful bills are clearly based on animus and could open the door to discrimination against LGBT people and other groups of individuals. Religious freedoms are already protected by the Constitution and federal law.”
Imagine trying to plan a wedding, only to find out that your right to marry has been placed in limbo.
That’s exactly what happened to two couples in Mobile County, Alabama last week after the Alabama Supreme Court effectively stopped local officials Alabama from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The one county that wasn’t covered in their order was Mobile County, but Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis refused to issue marriage licenses. Starting the day after the Alabama Supreme Court ruling he has denied licenses to both gay and straight couples.
On Friday, March 6 two couples – Julie & Dottie and April & Molly – went to pick up marriage licenses in Mobile County. They weren’t served.
The Alabama Supreme Court ruling is a direct challenge to several orders in favor of marriage equality by U.S. District Judge Callie Granade. Both the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay Granade’s original order, and marriage equality was supposed to go into effect statewide on February 9.
The state Supreme Court’s order halting marriages for gay couples came as a surprise to advocates, who see the move as violating the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution, which delineates that state judges are bound by the U.S. Constitution. Since it was interpreted that the Constitution guarantees marriage rights for same-sex couples in a federal jurisdiction covering Alabama, it follows that state judges and other officials must comply with that interpretation.
“Whenever state law conflicts with federal law, federal law wins,” David Kennedy, one of the attorneys in the case that struck down the marriage ban, told AL.com.
April Sanders and Molly Daniel have been together seven years. On Friday, March 6 they were denied a marriage licenses in Mobile County.
April and Molly met after “literally running into one another,” as April puts it.
“I turned a corner in a restaurant and ran into Molly. We started talking and shortly went out on our first date,” April says. “We have been together ever since.”
Though they’ve been together for seven years, the couple waited to marry until they could do so in Alabama, where they live.
“Marriage is important to us for just the simple equal rights: filing taxes together, making medical decisions, having powers of attorney,” says April.
After attempting to get a marriage license in two different counties last week, Molly and April expected to be denied on March 6. They decided to try again anyway as a way of showing that they know they’re equal citizens under the law.
“We were told we could legally marry, and we must not let them take that away from us.”
Dottie and Julie were planning a summer wedding, but decided they would try to get a license in Mobile County much sooner, following the state Supreme Court’s ruling that put marriage equality in limbo in Alabama. On Wednesday, March 4, the couple went to apply for a marriage license, knowing that they might be denied.
Julie Fey and Dottie Pippin met at church three years ago, and were planning to wed in June. They were denied a marriage license in Mobile County.
Two days later they joined Molly and April to again apply for a license, hoping for a better outcome.
“We believe that we must continue putting pressure on those individuals who govern us by using our own visibility and our love for one another,” Julie says.
Being denied the right to marry has complicated their wedding plans.
“We are not sure exactly when we will get married or where,” Julie says. “We would like to stay in Alabama where our families live. This situation with the courts and the rulings or orders makes it extremely difficult to plan one of the happiest days of our relationship together.”
An amicus brief filed today by the Campaign for Southern Equality and the Equality Federation calls for the U.S. Supreme Court to act quickly to ensure the freedom to marry across the nation. The brief focuses on the reality that gay and lesbian Southerners do not yet possess the political power to achieve equality through the legislative process, despite growing public support for marriage equality.
Unfolding developments in Alabama demonstrate the need for swift action from the Supreme Court as detailed in the brief:
“On March 3, 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court – comprised of elected judges – defied a federal court order and halted the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples with a clear invitation to this Court: ‘we defer only to the holdings of the United States Supreme Court and our own interpretations of federal law.’”
“Despite growing public support for legal rights, gay people – especially here in the South – remain politically powerless to change discriminatory state laws. The Supreme Court should not – and constitutionally cannot – wait for political will to match the private courage of gay people to protect the freedom to marry of all Americans,” says Meghann Burke, an attorney at Brazil & Burke and CSE’s Legal Team Leader.
The brief was authored by a legal team that includes attorneys from: Brazil & Burke, P.A., based in Asheville, NC; Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A., based in Miami, FL; Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, PLLC, based in Charlotte, NC; and McDuff & Byrd, based in Jackson, MS.
A clear majority of Americans support marriage equality. Across the South, which is home to one third of all LGBT Americans, support continues to grow, particularly among those under age 30. For example, 58 percent of Mississippi voters under the age of 30 support marriage equality according to 2013 polling. Yet the region remains politically hostile to LGBT equality.
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, CSE’s executive director, said, “In every Southern town, there are LGBT individuals and and families who urgently need – and desire – the rights and protections that our Constitution promises to all, including the ability to marry the person you love. The wave of anti-LGBT legislation sweeping across the South clearly demonstrates the political animus we face every day. For this reason, the Court must act.”
Tomorrow Molly and April will walk into the Probate Judge’s office in Mobile County, Alabama and ask for a marriage license.
They should be served. But as of this morning, all 67 counties across Alabama are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
On Tuesday night, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered a halt to same-sex marriages in the state – a blatant expression of animus. Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry and one of the legal architects behind marriage equality, said of the ruling:
The Alabama Supreme Court has done a disservice to itself, not to mention a massive injustice to the people of Alabama, in allowing itself to be used to temporarily obstruct the freedom to marry and the enforcement of the constitution’s guarantees. This flouting of the Constitution and travesty of justice will not stand.
Molly and April have been together for 7 years. Their wedding is set for March 25, but because Alabama is violating federal law, they don’t know whether they will receive a marriage license in their home state.
Imagine what this would feel like – the uncertainty, the injustice, knowing that your home state is using its power to discriminate against you. In the face of all this, may the love and courage Molly and April be an inspiration to us all.
We know that ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will resolve these issues for all 50 states. But, as many have said, justice delayed is justice denied. That’s why the Campaign for Southern Equality has organized tomorrow’s WE DO action in Mobile. We will go back to the counter again and again until we are served and treated as full, equal citizens.
“This discriminatory bill treats gay and lesbian couples as second-class citizens and distorts the true meaning of religious freedom,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “Once again our legislature has demonstrated a willful disregard for the basic concept of treating all North Carolinians fairly. Like Amendment One, I believe this bill will not stand the test of time because it is rooted in animus.”