Conscience in Mississippi; Grandstanding In Alabama

Conscience in Mississippi; Grandstanding In Alabama

A Circuit Clerk in Mississippi resigned her post rather than issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Linda Barnette said in a letter of resignation, effective on June 30, 2015, that

“The Supreme Court’s decision violates my core values as a Christian,” she wrote. “My final authority is the Bible. I cannot in all good conscience issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples under my name because the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan and purpose for marriage and family. . . .”
Acquaintances said Barnette’s husband is a pastor who worked with Billy Graham Ministries for many years.
“I choose to obey God rather than man,” Barnette wrote.

Linda Barnette, former Circuit Clerk of Grenada County, Mississippi.

I cite this letter to pay Barnette public respect. She had been Circuit Clerk, for 24 years. But she followed her conscience, peacefully but clearly, out the door. 
That’s what Christians and Quakers are supposed to do.

Her witness is honorable. It is also rare. And it won’t slow the issuance of same sex marriage licenses in the state by much, if at all. As of Tuesday June 30, all but ten of Mississippi’s 82 counties are in compliance with the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage. The rest are expected to follow soon.

Mississippi — the ten holdout counties (as of June 30, 2015) are in red; the 72 in compliance are in green.

In Alabama, on the other hand, the situation is  murkier and less edifying. In Montgomery, Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the state supreme court, is continuing a kabuki dance of delay and deception, pretending that the order does not yet apply, and talking out of both sides of his mouth as to whether county officials need to comply.

And there’s no hint of Moore being prepared to lay down his seat on the court to preserve his “conscience.” Rather, his maneuvering looks much more like political posturing by a person ambitious for higher office.

And it just might work for Moore. He’s been campaigning against homosexuals for more than fifteen years, and won back his Chief Justice’s seat in 2012 after being removed in 2003 by state officials for judicial misconduct.

Among his more notorious actions on the bench was penning an opinion in 2002 in a custody case involving a lesbian mother, which spoke of homosexuals in a flagrantly vile language:

To disfavor practicing homosexuals in custody matters is not invidious discrimination, nor is it legislating personal morality. On the contrary, disfavoring practicing homosexuals in custody matters promotes the general welfare of the people of our State in accordance with our law,…

The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle…

Homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it. That is enough under the law to allow a court to consider such activity harmful to a child. To declare that homosexuality is harmful is not to make new law but to reaffirm the old; to say that it is not harmful is to experiment with people’s lives, particularly the lives of children.

Moore has run for governor twice, and become notorious for his declarations of defiance aimed at federal courts and laws, especially on matters relating to homosexuality or religion. His biggest campaign donor has been associated with white nationalist and Neo-Confederate groups.

Moore insisted on Monday that Alabama county officials are still not required to issue same sex marriage licenses, while state officials prepare post-decision appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Against this background, an Associated Press telephone survey of counties on Monday, June 29,  found

that at least 32 of the state’s 67 counties were issuing the licenses to gay couples. However, at least 22 counties were not issuing the licenses, with many of those shutting down marriage license operations altogether as probate judges said they needed time to sort out the ruling.

Rep. Patricia Todd, the state’s only openly gay lawmaker and the head of the Human Rights Campaign-Alabama, said the probate judges needed to accept that the issue was settled with the U.S Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage the law of the land.

“It’s perplexing to me that they are not able to do their job,” Todd said. “Unfortunately, I think it’s probably going to continue until one gets sued and thousands of taxpayer dollars are spent on a lawsuit they are going to lose.”

“There is no justification for delaying or obstructing the clear message of the Supreme Court of the United States — marriage equality must begin in Alabama, and probate judges who stand in the way of that legal imperative risk exposing themselves to legal consequences,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement.

Some counties began granting the licenses to gay couples on Friday. More counties followed suit Monday after the Association of County Commissions of Alabama sent a memo advising probate judges to follow the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

We already saw that Moore’s efforts to foment resistance didn’t carry over to much of Mississippi, on Alabama’s western border.

To the east, in Georgia, the response to Moore is more like a bronx cheer: As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

Georgia leaders vowed months ago that the state would not become another Alabama when it came to same-sex marriage. And they stuck to that promise as dozens, if not hundreds, of gay couples tied the knot after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision.
Chase Daughtrey, a Cook County judge and the head of the Council of Probate Courts, reports that there were no problems in any of the 159 county courts his council oversees since the High Court’s decision on Friday. Court officials had new forms replacing the words “bride” and “groom” with “Applicant 1″ and “Applicant 2″ at the ready. . . .
Daughtrey said Monday afternoon that “all appears to be good and judges are following the law.” In short, there have been no acts of defiance reported in Georgia. . . .
Not that state officials could be mistaken as liberals on the issue.:

Both Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens sent out statements within a few hours of the ruling expressing disappointment with the court’s judgment but making clear the state would comply with its decision.

In North Carolina, a new law would permit local magistrates to refuse to marry same sex couples on religious grounds.  Several had resigned rather than perform such ceremonies. There will no doubt be litigation about that law.
But the law is irrelevant to the legality of same sex marriage in NC, and marriage licenses are being dispensed as usual.

Phil Berger & Tim Moore. Unhappy. Compliant.

In Raleigh, N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, issued a joint statement shortly after the ruling, which sounded  as if it was written by someone in Georgia:

“The majority of North Carolina voters who define marriage as between one man and one woman deserved a final resolution from the Supreme Court,” Berger and Moore said. “While this decision is disappointing, we respect the ruling and will continue to work to ensure North Carolina complies with the law of the land.”

North Carolina Rainbow.

3 thoughts on “Conscience in Mississippi; Grandstanding In Alabama”

  1. I guess some folk will need to be reminded of how defiance of the desegregation decisions were enforced.

    Almost all of my life from the early 50’s until now, there have been multiple episodes of the prophet Chicken Little’s words driving the good citizens of the United States into Fall out Shelters. Once again, the “Sky is falling.”

  2. Thanks for these insights into the way that the South is handling the gay marriage issue.

  3. I too commend Mrs. Barnette for her decision to leave her position rather than try to impose her beliefs on others. I am curious since she states the Bible, which quotes Christ Himself equating divorce and remarriage as the as the sin of adultery, is her final authority. I wonder if she has ever felt such reservations when it came to issuing marriage licenses to individuals who were divorced and were marrying a different person?

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