Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, licenses denied in Tuscaloosa County


Meredith Bagley, Alex Davenport and Cathy Hoop joined the group of supporters outside the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse after the Supreme Court ruled (5-4) that same-sex marriages are legal in the nation.  Photo courtesy of Will Hamilton

Laura Testino

This morning at 9 a.m., Alex Davenport reported for a staff meeting at the University. When she entered the room, she was a married woman, with marriage licenses from both Vermont and Jefferson County, Alabama, legally solidifying her betrothal to her wife, Meredith Bagley.

Davenport left the meeting a married woman still, but one with calmed nerves, and a demeanor opposite the one she had after leaving her home this morning, pacing in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

While Davenport was scrolling through her cellphone during the meeting, the Supreme Court announced, in a 5-4 ruling, that states can no longer deny same-sex couples the same marriage rights of opposite-sex couples.

“I glanced through my phone part-way through [the meeting] and saw the updates and text messages of congratulations, and I got a message from my dad, one of the first ones to come through,” said Davenport, a University staff member of student affairs. “So I tried to keep my composure through the rest of that meeting, but as soon as I walked out, it was just absolute disbelief in some ways. I knew today could be the day, folks have been speculating all month about when the decision could actually be handed down.”

The Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to issue a marriage license in a 5-4 ruling, and Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court.

“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times,” Kennedy’s opinion states. “The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a char­ter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a re­ceived legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”

Davenport’s wife, Meredith Bagley, was still in pajamas when she heard the news this morning, but read the majority decision before dressing and heading to the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse around 10:30 a.m., where she and other supporters stood holding red signs that read, “America is ready for the freedom to marry.”

“The majority decision is pretty unequivocal that states must issue [marriage licenses], that this decision trumps any other state things,” said Bagley, an assistant professor of communication studies. “I think they made it very clear.”

The opinion went on to state that marriage can contribute to the destiny of an individual. While acknowledging the history of marriage, Kennedy’s opinion continued to specify how the Court will recognize marriage as of June 26, 2015.

“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality,” the opinion states. “This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.”

Because of the opinion’s specificity, both Davenport and Bagley said they were disappointed to find Tuscaloosa was not issuing same-sex marriage licenses to couples. Chief Clerk Lisa Whitehead stated licenses will be issued to same-sex couples “as soon as we receive the final ruling.”  Whitehead expects for the court to receive the final ruling – which is beyond the issuance of the opinion – either later in the day on Friday or on Monday.

As of Friday at 12:06 p.m., the courthouse had only issued one marriage license to an opposite-sex couple. Betty Ford, the recently-wed wife, felt good about receiving her marriage license today, she said.

“I feel that God created Adam, and he created Eve. Adam is a man, and Eve is a woman,” Ford said, regarding her opinion of same-sex marriage, per the Supreme Court’s decision. “Bone of bone, flesh of my flesh. And [God] said be fruitful and multiply. So how can two of the same sex organs be fruitful and multiply? Saying all of that, then, to each his own, but it’s not what I would do.”

This opinion is also recognized in the historical research present in Kennedy’s majority decision, which can be read in full on the Supreme Court’s website. The opinion states that marriage, in the view of some, “is by its nature a gender-differentiated union of man and woman.”

Cathy Hoop, pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, was also at the courthouse today. Hoop, who has been at the church for a year and a half, has also married one same-sex couple, who received their Alabama license February 14, the same Valentine’s Day that Bagley and Davenport received their Alabama marriage license from Jefferson County. This day was one during the brief window of time that same-sex marriage licenses were issued in the state of Alabama.

In February, The Crimson White reported that Federal District Court Judge Callie v.s. “Ginny” Granade overturned the state’s previous ban of same-sex marriage on January 23. About two weeks later, on February 9, it was legal in Alabama for same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses. This was met with a statement the preceding Sunday evening, February 8, by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore ordering Alabama probate judges to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse, probate judge Hardy McCollum followed the order.

But by Friday, February 13, Judge Hardy allowed for same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses in Tuscaloosa. The licenses were issued until March 3, when the Alabama Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus halting same-sex marriage.

Hoop didn’t perform the wedding on Valentine’s Day when the couple received the license, but instead performed a renewal of vows later in May. Marrying a same-sex couple is a view supported by her Presbyterian congregation, she said.

“This church has had a long standing with social justice and civil rights issues. They’ll be celebrating their 50th anniversary next year,” Hoop said. “The civil rights issues, race issues, were a problem in Tuscaloosa, and they were a church that really took a lead in that in being open and welcoming to all people. So that’s always been very important to them. It’s integral to their faith, and how they live out their faith.”

University Presbyterian Church, like some other churches in the area, is supportive of their diverse congregation, Hoop said.

“Some of that diversity is same-sex couples, who are able to have a place where they can worship together as a couple, and it doesn’t have a to be a secret,” Hoop said.

Hoop said she had not seen any dissenters protesting in the area between when she arrived at 10:30 a.m. and left before noon.

“Whenever we’ve been here, back in February when we were here, there were no people to protest against [same-sex marriage], which is a relief. I’m glad it didn’t get angry,” Hoop said.

Although Bagley has not yet read the dissent by Chief Justice Roberts (who is joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas), she said she plans to Sunday. In the dissent, the ideas of the majority decision are recognized, but Roberts states while he does not “begrudge” any celebration, the Court took an extraordinary step in its decision.

“The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage,” the dissent states. “And a State’s decision to maintain the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history can hardly be called irrational. In short, our Constitution does not enact any one theory of marriage. The people of a State are free to expand marriage to include same-sex couples, or to retain the historic definition.”

As for the state of Alabama, Bagley said she looks forward to the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses by Tuscaloosa County. While some other counties in the state are issuing licenses without the formal ruling, Tuscaloosa is not.

“I would really hope that it’s cleared up as soon as possible, maybe no later than Monday,” Bagley said. “Because we know there’s couples waiting, there’s couples who missed out on the window back in February.”

Bagley received her first marriage license with Davenport in Vermont in 2012. When the couple received their license from Jefferson County in February, it was to calm nerves and ensure the legality in the state, Davenport said. The couple said it is comfortable with moving around the nation, and have both lived in a few other states. They also said they are thankful to have same-sex marriage be identified as the “law of the land,” because it can no longer potentially stop them from pursuing jobs and careers in other states, Davenport said.

“But when I found out [about the ruling], again, just kind of disbelief,” Davenport said. “All I wanted to do was to find her [Bagley], and just share in that celebratory moment. I just keep telling folks that I feel that I can take a deeper breath right now. I just don’t think I realized how anxious this was making me, and just some of the day-to-day stress that this produces. So it has been lifted.”