POLITICS

Roy Moore Channels George Wallace In Stand Against Marriage Equality

02/09/2015 01:56 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2015

WASHINGTON -- By 1963, much of the United States was on its way to desegregation. It had been nine years since the Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision finding segregation in schools unconstitutional, and five years since the Little Rock Nine integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.

But in June 1963, then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace (D) was determined to carry out his inaugural pledge of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever." On June 11, Wallace stood at the entrance of the University of Alabama in an effort to prevent two black students from enrolling, despite a federal order allowing them to do so.

Wallace cited states' rights as his reason for refusing to follow the federal order. He ultimately stepped aside when President John F. Kennedy's administration called the Alabama National Guard to intervene.

For many Americans, the "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door" remains an iconic image of Alabama and its stand against civil rights.

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) has been doing his part in recent days to make sure the state does not lose that legacy.

In January, a federal judge ruled that Alabama's ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional. Marriages were supposed to start Monday morning, but Moore ordered the state's probate judges Sunday night not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, arguing that they were not bound to follow the federal ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled 7-2 Monday morning not to stop same-sex marriages from moving forward, making Alabama the 37th state to legalize marriage equality.

"It's raising a lot of memories of past history, where the state -- rather than eagerly stepping forward to meet the civil rights question of the time -- has been pulled along," Human Rights Campaign spokesman Adam Talbot said.

University of Alabama professor Joseph Smith, who studies judicial politics, agreed that there are "echoes" of Wallace in Moore.

"You have a statewide elected official standing up to a federal court and insisting that Alabama should be able to run its institutions the way it wants," Smith said.

"[Moore] is trying to stand in the courthouse door as surely as Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door. Shame on him," wrote Charles J. Dean, an opinion writer for the Alabama Media Group, in a column Monday morning.

Moore has defied a federal order before. In 2003, Alabama's judicial ethics panel voted to remove Moore from office after he refused to follow a federal order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

This time around, there's no federal order directed at him or the state Supreme Court. Because he is simply giving his opinion on what probate judges should do, Moore may not face the same disciplinary action as last time.

Monday morning, despite Moore's order, some same-sex couples were able to wed.

"At the end of the day, it’s still a very simple legal analysis: You’ve got a federal court order,” Jefferson County Probate Court Judge Alan King told The New York Times, explaining why he had not hesitated to issue the marriage licenses.

Other counties seemed to be holding out. In Tuscaloosa County, for example, gay couples looking for a marriage license were instead handed a summary of Moore's order. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said Monday said he would not take disciplinary action against any probate judges in the state.

Smith, the University of Alabama professor, said that Moore is probably considering electoral politics, similar to Wallace.

"We all know how this story ends," he added. "The story ends with same-sex marriages being done in Alabama. At this point, any state official that refuses to go along with this is just sowing confusion and postponing what is going to happen and probably acting primarily out of concern for their next election."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mislocated Little Rock Central High School in Alabama. It's in Arkansas.

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