THE BLOG

... And Justice for All

02/22/2015 02:53 am ET | Updated Apr 23, 2015

I'm a little emotional about same-sex couples accepting Alabama Probate Judges' time-honored offer to newlyweds "You may kiss". These marriages are all the sweeter because when we were married by an Alabama Probate Judge three decades ago, it was a very different world. Sorta.

Those were the days of "I now pronounced you man and wife." Unmistakably, a man was a man whatever his marital status. Once married, a woman was reduced to her role. We'd already warned the Judge off the the "obey" thing, but he informed us that another trip to the courthouse and a formal petition -- fifty bucks, please -- was required for me to reclaim my own surname. It had legally vanished with "I do". It is a privilege to see justice finally promised to another oppressed group. And what additional satisfaction it is to have a front row seat, watching seemingly immovable traditions -- reserving marriage for some, refusing it to others, arbitrarily elevating some over others -- dissolving before the irresistible force of a Federal Judge's orders overturning Alabama's law banning same-sex marriage -- celebration time.

A victory of this proportion is for everyone, a lesson on a grand scale. People died for these rights. Credit especially the martyred San Francisco Board of Supervisors Harvey Milk and his profound insight: "'Coming out' is the most political thing you can do." When individuals risked everything to be true to themselves, debilitating stereotypes dissolved into the faces of our family members, neighbors, friends and coworkers. Millions shared the honor when Mr. Milk was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2009. Our world is improving because people were brave.

Would that the heroic reporter Dudley Clendinen had lived to see this turn of events. His Out for Good, which we explored with him in 1999, remains an important report on harsh realities still endured by too many homosexuals in the world and in America. The particulars of people's private lives continue to elicit sensational and hate-filled reactions. Still.

Not surprising is the recalcitrance of the "Ten Commandments" Alabama Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore. Nor is this appalling defiance of the Federal Judge's direct order out of character. In 2003, his own colleagues removed him from office for defying the law. What does it say for the voting majority in Alabama, that In 2012 they returned him to the same position?

I am amazed that half the judges in the State defied their Chief Justice. Perhaps they realized his argument is "so 1832", dating back as it does to South Carolinian John C. Calhoun's (and later the Confederacy's) notion of "nullification". Maybe those law-abiding Probate Judges didn't want to be counted among the more recent neo-nullification gang: Orval Faubus, George Wallace, Lester Maddox and now, notably, the list includes the former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee (who's also voiced suspicions about dancing).

Whatever their motivation, it's a breath of fresh air that so many Alabama Probate Judges obeyed the Federal court order and married whomever chose that august and demanding path. This is all the more noteworthy given their Chief Justice's recalcitrance, which carries the distinctive stench of oppression still lingering across America from white supremacists imposing equally noxious restrictions based on race as well as gender.

The rule of law defines civilization and underpins America's precious (and precarious) democratic experiment. A less privileged individual would go to jail for the kind of defiance we are witnessing. A senior judge flagrantly breaking the law with apparent impunity is a sad spectacle, even in long-benighted Alabama.

Ultimately, justice will win out in a just polity. Still, it should not be necessary to overcome the willful injustice of atavistic elements of our judicial system.