What once read “bride and groom” on Alabama marriage licenses now reads “spouse and spouse.”
Gay “marriage” was made legal Feb. 9 after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta did not issue an extended stay request from Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange’s office over a recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade.
The state waited in anticipation to see if the U.S. Supreme Court would step in to extend the stay, but the waiting ended in disappointment for those supportive of biblical marriage.
The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (ABSBOM) voted unanimously at its Feb. 6 meeting to “express moral outrage, intense grief and strong disagreement over court rulings that have set our culture in a direction against the biblical definition of marriage” in its Resolution on Reaffirmation of Biblical Marriage.
Rick Lance, ABSBOM executive director, said in a video statement released Feb. 4, “Now more than ever we need to commit ourselves to praying for spiritual and moral awakening in our land. In the course of history Christians have often been at their best when they were opposed by government and culture.”
The ABSBOM encouraged all churches to be wise about preparing their bylaws and policies and released a Christian Response Task Force report designed to “help autonomous Baptist churches think through vital issues and formulate their own internal policies.”
People gather outside the Alabama State House in Montgomery Feb. 6 for a prayer rally organized by Alabama Citizens Action Progsram following the recent ruling regarding same-sex marriage.
The report listed options a Baptist church may use to “protect its biblical values” including a potential marriage statement: “We believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, following biblical principles (Gen. 2:19–24, Lev. 18:22, Matt. 19:4–6, Rom. 1:18–27, Eph. 5:22–33, Heb. 13:4). We believe that God sanctions only the union in marriage of a man to a woman. Therefore, this church recognizes only a wedding compatible with those standards.”
The report concluded with a call for God’s people to be “salt and light transforming the culture while not being conformed to (it).”
“Let us be true to our Lord and His Word while showing compassion and care to those for whom He died. Let us speak and practice the truth in love to the glory of the Lord and to the health of His Church” the report said.
Also on the morning of Feb. 6 about 70 people gathered to pray on the steps of Alabama’s State House in Montgomery.
Organized by Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), speakers included Dan Ireland, ALCAP executive director emeritus; Mark Gidley, pastor of Faith Worship Center, Glencoe; and Mike Jackson, director of the office of leadership and church health at ABSBOM. State Rep. Allen Farley closed in prayer. Joe Godfrey, ALCAP executive director, hosted the event and introduced each speaker.
Godfrey said prior to the event, “This is not a matter of political debate … this is truly an issue that addresses the very heart of God. His love for mankind is expressed through His designs for marriage and family. No matter the whims of public opinion … God’s Word does not change.”
Same-sex marriage was brought to Alabama by Granade’s ruling on two separate cases in January that said Alabama’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional and violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
After rejecting the state’s arguments for an open-ended stay to delay the ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court decides on same-sex marriage in June, Granade eventually agreed to put a 14-day stay on the ruling. But a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court denied the request Feb. 3 in favor of the two Mobile couples – Cari Searcy and Kim McKeand and James Strawser and John Humphrey – that had sued.
Searcy and McKeand argued that Alabama law banning same-sex marriage prevented the recognition of their 2008 California marriage and Searcy as a parent to their son, whom McKeand gave birth to in 2005.
The second couple, Strawser and Humphrey, filed a lawsuit citing health and medical reasons for requesting a marriage license.
Now the two couples, and countless others, can legally marry in the state as “spouse and spouse.”
But changing the long-standing definition of marriage as “one man and one woman” isn’t going to “change the reality of the institution that God created,” said Jeffrey B. Riley, professor of ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“People don’t have the authority by our legal fight to change what marriage is. … God created marriage as a gift to men and women. It’s a leaving and cleaving, one flesh union between one man and one woman for life,” Riley said.
So what can Christians do in the midst of this new law?
“Our role as the church is to present a biblical view of sexuality and to do better at declaring God’s plan and purposes for men and women and human sexuality in marriage,” Riley said. “We live in a culture where the understanding of marriage is being undercut. As the church we must show the world what marriage should look like. That’s where we begin and where our response is going to start.
“We’re going to have to be courageous and wise about where we speak and who we speak to. We have to tell the truth and to live our marriages … so people can look at (them) in the church and say, ‘That’s what marriage is.’”
Although probate judges are now required to issue same-sex marriage licenses, several Alabama counties said they will no longer perform wedding ceremonies, citing potential office confusion and increased workload, according to news reports.
Chilton County Probate Judge Bobby Martin said probate judges will not be required to perform wedding ceremonies anymore because of a section of Alabama law code that says marriages “may be” solemnized by any licensed minister, active or retired judge, circuit court or district court. The “may be” statement releases officials from the idea of being “required to.”
For supporters of gay marriage, Feb. 9 and the days leading up to it were a “huge win.”
Benjamin Cooper, chairman of Equality Alabama, said, “We anticipated this. We are overjoyed and thrilled and really proud of our federal court.”
But New Orleans Seminary’s Riley said, “It ought to break our hearts to see marriage abused in any form and redefined in any way, but God is God,” referencing Galatians 6:7–9.
Riley said those stuck in sexual immorality will eventually be broken by it. The church’s role now, he said, is to “prepare for ministry to those who will be broken down.”
“It’s an act of love and goodness to tell the truth because if we tell the truth now those who are broken by these practices down the road are going to come to us when they’re tired of being broken and want to be set free.
“The deterioration of our society is what happens in a society in which God is rejected. But I’m not going to lose heart and I’m also going to trust that God is going to do something wonderful out of this,” Riley said.
Johnny Fain, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dothan, said he was prepared for the aftermath of the ruling that ultimately made same-sex marriage legal in the state. He said, “Our mission is still the same – to reach the world and obey the law of God.”
Fain said the church’s bylaws state the “conditions of marriage and we spell it out very plainly in our policies.” He said he would refuse to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony and uphold the sanctity of marriage, “regardless of what a law states.”
Henry C. Strickland, dean of Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, said the recent rulings should not affect churches or pastors in the immediate future because of “equal protection clauses.”
“The state cannot treat people differently on the basis of being a gay couple but that does not mean a private entity like a pastor cannot treat them differently,” he said. “Someone may try to pass a statute to regulate that but there’s nothing like that right now.”
And although the district court order may require Alabama to issue gay marriage licenses now, that decision still may be overturned if the U.S. Supreme Court finds in its upcoming review of cases from Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky, that states may prohibit same-sex marriage, said David M. Smolin, professor of constitutional law and director of the center for children, law and ethics at Samford’s law school. He said that concept makes for a bit of an “awkward situation.”
“It is still possible that the Supreme Court will not hold to gay marriage as a right so … if Alabama did allow gay marriages between now and June and then the Supreme Court doesn’t rule in favor … it seems out of order,” he said. “Maybe those marriages will get to remain marriages but then a decision that was wrongly decided (by the lower courts) gets to stick.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Neisha Roberts is editorial production coordinator for The Alabama Baptist. Jennifer Davis Rash, executive editor of the Alabama Baptist, contributed to this story.)