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Supreme courtThis morning, a majority of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block same-sex marriages in Alabama pending the high court’s decision on the constitutionality of similar marriage bans in other states — making Alabama the 37th state in which such marriages are permitted.

The court is scheduled to hear cases out of Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in April, with a ruling expected in June.

Allowing yet another state to move ahead with gay marriage led many to speculate that a majority on the nation’s highest court were moving towards acceptance of the argument that state bans are in fact unconstitutional.

Fueling that speculation was a dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas, joined in by Justice Antonin Scalia, chastising his colleagues for not staying Alabama marriages.

Thomas wrote:

This court looks the other way as yet another federal district judge casts aside state laws without making any effort to preserve the status quo pending the court’s resolution of a constitutional question it left open in United States v. Windsor [the court’s 2013 decision striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act].

This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our . . . responsibilities. And, it is indecorous for this Court to pretend that it is.

A federal judge had already ruled in January that Alabama’s ban was unconstitutional, but stayed the ruling until today in order to give the state time to appeal. State Attorney General Luther Strange then headed straight to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking that relief.

With that deadline and the possibility of federally-sanctioned same-sex marriages looming, Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore issued an order last night prohibiting state probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to such couples. 

(This was not the first time Moore defiantly tangled with the federal courts, as the New York Times noted earlier today. Readers may remember Moore’s refusal in the early 2000s to obey a federal judge’s order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from a Montgomery building — a move which led to his removal from the Chief Justice post. He became Chief Justice again in 2013.)

But once the high court refused to issue a stay order, probate judges across the state defied Moore’s order and began marrying gay couples.

As Robert Barnes at the Washington Post correctly points out, the dissent by two of the justices does not necessarily mean that the remaining seven all voted in favor of denying a stay.  Rather, it means only that Thomas and Scalia chose to give their reasons for voting otherwise.

Wrote Barnes:

Some justices may have thought Alabama should receive a stay, but did not join Thomas’s dissent. All that is clear from Monday’s action is that a majority of the nine justices turned down the request, and only Thomas and Scalia gave reasons for their actions. 

News
(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

Things at the U.S. Supreme Court may seem a bit quiet right now, with conferences and oral arguments not scheduled to start up again until later in the month, but don’t let that lull you into a sense of calm.

Once the justices reconvene, all hell could break loose, with same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection and redistricting among the issues being reviewed.

“The term went from being one of the more uneventful terms in recent years to potentially one of the biggest ones in a generation,” SCOTUSblog editor Amy Howe said.

For a look at what big issues have been argued and decided as well as what’s in queue, read the update by CNN’s Ariane de Vogue here.

Commentary

In case you missed it over on the main site, here is John Cole’s excellent cartoon for February 2. It obviously speaks for itself. And if such images exposing the state leadership’s strange obsession with who people love appeal, be sure to check out Dwayne Powell’s cartoon this morning in Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled: “Skip that burger and get your Phil of religion-approved grub.”

 

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Commentary

Gay prideThe closed-door meeting to discuss the new “religious freedom” bill has been postponed, according to an email sent out by the North Carolina Values Coalition. The organization claims that they received an “overwhelmingly positive” response to the meeting and have had to reschedule out of concern that the facility could not accommodate the crowd.

Unfortunately, postponement of the meeting will be unlikely to slow down the momentum of the “religious freedom” crusade. This morning, Senate leader Phil Berger introduced a “religious freedom” bill allowing magistrates and registers of deeds to be exempt from performing their duties if it violates their religious beliefs.

The bill attempts to be impartial on its face. It allows magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from their duties if they are asked to perform an act that goes against their religious beliefs but then also prevents them from performing any of their duties for the following six month period. In other words, they won’t be allowed to pick and choose which marriages to perform. The bill adds that there must be a magistrate available to perform marriages for at least ten hours a week over three business days. While all this may seem fair in theory, the reality is that, in many places in North Carolina, finding a magistrate willing to perform same-sex marriages and a register of deeds willing to sign the marriage license under such circumstances could be difficult. Adding to the burden for couples, will be trying to get in during the small window of time three days a week that these officials will be available. The overall result will be that LGBT couples will have a much harder time getting married if this bill is passed—the exact effect that was intended.

The North Carolina Values Coalition has indicated that they plan to seek much broader anti-LGBT legislation, than this bill. On the other side, Equality NC has also indicated that they fear additional legislation that will provide a broader license to discriminate.

The absurdity of the bill itself was pointed out by State Senator Jeff Jackson, during Equality NC’s press conference held today in anticipation of the bill’s introduction and the legislative briefing originally scheduled for this afternoon. As Jackson rightly observed, “in this nation, we don’t have to pass any government employee’s personal religious test in order to receive government service.” Apparently, Senator Berger missed that lesson in civics.

Commentary

marriage amendmentAccording to news reports, Representative Paul Stam will hold some kind of legislative “briefing” tomorrow on a “religious freedom” bill that would permit magistrates and other state employees to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses if it violates their own religious beliefs.

This is an enormously troubling idea.

From a legal standpoint, permitting state employees to refuse to perform the duties of their job based on their faith opens the door to all sorts of potentially absurd new practices. There are many religions out there with many different beliefs, including some that are contrary to our state laws or policies. Are we now saying that a person’s individual, albeit sincerely-held, beliefs take precedence over the duties of their job? Can an EMT refuse to provide medical treatment to a member of the LGBT community because their lifestyle violates her religious beliefs? If a police officer, whose religion beliefs include the right of a man to discipline his wife, witnesses domestic abuse while on the job, can he choose not to arrest the husband? We’re heading down a very slippery slope with this bill.

But let’s think about this bill itself, which Stam claims is intended to defend religious freedom. The irony of this, of course, Read More