Article 6, Clause 2 of our Constitution provides that "[t]his Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." This is the so-called "supremacy clause" of our Constitution.
An order of a federal court or the Supreme Court shall be supreme and preempt any order or decision of a state court or state-court judge. The recent order of the United States Supreme Court authorizing marriage licenses to be issued by Alabama probate or other state courts to couples of the same sex must be obeyed. Under the "supremacy clause" such licenses must be issued, notwithstanding the personal opinions held by any state judicial official authorized to issue marriage licenses.
A lot of discussion is occurring comparing the refusal of the chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court and other local judges to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples to the refusal by late Alabama Gov. George Wallace and other state officials to obey federal court orders mandating the end of racial segregation at the University of Alabama.
This is similar in form only, not in substance. State officials in various Southern states who refused to comply with federal court orders ending racial segregation were personally complicit, along with their parents and grandparents before them, in systematically and brutally denying generations of African Americans the exercise of their right to equality under the law.
Same-sex persons seeking a license to marry neither historically have been nor currently are subjected to mass, gender-based, state-enforced oppression equivalent to the brutality of chattel slavery or wholesale lynchings carried out solely on the basis of the victim's skin color.
Less than 50 years ago, state officials in Alabama were active participants in denying African Americans the rights guaranteed to them under of our Declaration of Independence and amendments to our Constitution.
This is an important distinction. I am not suggesting that state officials who object to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples should be excused for not following the order of our Supreme Court. I'm only saying there is a major, albeit nuanced, distinction that should be thoughtfully considered before characterizing the actions of state officials in Alabama as being the same as the actions of Gov. Wallace and Alabama officials who sought to retain racial segregation within Alabama.
Not generally understood or acknowledged is the substantial opposition to same-sex marriage among many African-American clergy and church members. This is balanced, however, by enormous reservoirs of compassion and love for members of their churches whom they know or believe to be gay.
People in the state of Alabama, white and black alike, are experiencing a seismic shift in attitudes toward same-sex relationship, with the under-30 generation being especially supportive. It is this generation that is most likely to support same-sex marriage within and outside Alabama.