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More Ala. counties OK gay marriage

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP) — Following a week of tumult in Alabama concerning gay marriage, most of the state’s counties are now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But the chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court continues to argue that state judges who issue marriage licenses are not bound by the federal court ruling that declared Alabama’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, two leaders of the Alabama Baptist State Convention have issued a statement affirming the biblical definition of marriage and noting that churches whose staff officiate same-sex weddings are not in “friendly cooperation” with the state convention.

Fifty of Alabama’s 67 counties had decided to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as of Feb. 13, the New York Times reported. That marked a significant increase from Feb. 9, when as many as 44 counties said they would not issue licenses to same-sex couples despite the federal court ruling, according to USA Today.

The shift in marriage license practices came after Federal District Judge Callie V.S. Granade ruled Feb. 12 that Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis had to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Probate judges are the state officials responsible for issuing marriage licenses.

Granade, the same judge who originally struck down Alabama’s gay marriage ban Jan. 23, wrote that Davis was causing a “substantial threat” of “irreparable injury” to four same-sex couples by not granting them marriage licenses. The homosexual couples at issue were concerned about being denied the ability to make medical decisions for one another and being denied parental rights, Granade wrote.

“If Plaintiffs take all steps that are required in the normal course of business as a prerequisite to issuing a marriage license to opposite-sex couples, Judge Davis may not deny them a license on the ground that Plaintiffs constitute same-sex couples or because it is prohibited by the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act or by any other Alabama law or Order pertaining to same-sex marriage,” Granade wrote.

But Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, said Feb. 15 on Fox News Sunday that Granade’s ruling is only “law of the case before her” and not an action “overturning the Alabama Constitution.”

“Federal law is not made by judges,” Moore said. “That’s something very basic. … Those interpretations are not law. If they were, then the legislature would have no role. Legislatures are to make law. Congress is to make law. The United States … Constitution is law. So is [the] Alabama Constitution. We have a fundamental misunderstanding in our country that federal courts by their mere utterance make law. They do not, sir. They make law of the case, applicable to the parties before them.”

Two Alabama probate judges told the Chattanoogan Feb. 10 that they would not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“I’m not going to be a party to it,” Fred Hamic, probate judge in Geneva County in southeast Alabama, said of same-sex marriage. “I was raised in a Christian home and was taught it is a sin.”

Nick Williams, probate judge in Washington County north of Mobile, said he would not issue gay marriage licenses either, adding, “I’m not worried about following the U.S. Constitution.”

Granade stayed her original ruling legalizing gay marriage statewide until Feb. 9 while the appeals process moved forward. Both the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to extend the stay.

Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented from the decision not to grant an additional stay, with Thomas writing that the decision “may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution” of the gay marriage issue.

The Alabama Supreme Court agreed Feb. 13 to consider a request by conservative groups to stop same-sex marriage in the state, WVTV in Birmingham reported.

In response to the unfolding marriage situation, Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, and state convention president Travis Coleman Jr. issued a statement posted on Lance’s blog Feb. 10.

“Alabama Baptists strongly support traditional marriage between one man and one woman only. We do not believe any other form of marriage is biblically sanctioned,” Lance and Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Prattville, said. “Our State Board of Missions has recently adopted a ‘Resolution on the Reaffirmation of Biblical Marriage,’ which reflects a strong consensus among Alabama Baptists. This belief has been faithfully taught and proclaimed by our churches and reflected in resolutions from our annual State Convention meetings and national SBC meetings as well.

“The vast and overwhelming majority of Alabama Baptist leaders and other church members continue to affirm the biblical view of marriage and the historic declarations that Alabama Baptists have made concerning the marriage relationship. Therefore, any church that allows staff members to officiate at same-sex ceremonies is clearly outside biblical teachings about marriage and human sexuality, and they demonstrate that they are not in like-minded fellowship or friendly cooperation with Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists,” Lance and Coleman said.

A volunteer minister at one church that cooperates with the Alabama Baptist State Convention has performed a same-sex wedding.

Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville confirmed to Baptist Press Feb. 10 that Ellin Jimmerson, minister to the community and a church member, had performed at least one same-sex wedding, but not on the church’s property.

Weatherly Heights Pastor David Freeman wrote in the church’s newsletter Feb. 10 that he declined one request to officiate a gay wedding because the couple’s “expectations did not align with my own.” But he added that a group of the congregation’s leaders had given him “the freedom to officiate a same sex marriage.”

“Since our church has not embraced a position on this issue, they felt like the service should not be done in our church or in our church’s name,” Freeman wrote. “It could be done in a home, wedding chapel, or another off campus location. I would be functioning as a Minister of the Gospel.”

Charlie Howell, director of missions for the Madison Baptist Association, with which Weatherly Heights cooperates, told the Huntsville Times that a meeting is scheduled the week of Feb. 16 between associational leaders and representatives of Weatherly Heights.

“We’re Baptists, so that means that each church is autonomous,” Howell told the Times. “There’s a lot of freedom there, but that doesn’t mean anything goes. Our churches agree to cooperate and to serve together in unity, so this is not pleasant, what we’re dealing with here. We’re not going to back off the truth. The truth has got to prevail. And this is not just about one woman or one preacher. This teaching runs pretty deep down there [at Weatherly].”