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March 20, 2015

Putting the “hick” back in Dixie

South Carolina and Alabama try to fight pro-marriage rulings

Columbia, S.C.--A state senate subcommittee approved a measure on March 11 calling for a constitutional convention to put forward an amendment barring same-sex marriage.

Constitutional amendments can be introduced in Congress, or can be put forward by states after 34 state legislatures call for a constitutional convention. If the convention puts forward a proposed amendment, it must then be ratified by 38 states before it goes into the Constitution.

No amendment has been passed through this mechanism; all 27 amendments thus far have gone through Congress.

The two Democrats on the subcommittee opposed the measure calling for a convention based on the question of same-sex marriage, but approved a separate measure that would put forward an amendment requiring a balanced budget.

Previous attempts to call constitutional conventions in recent decades have fallen short of the 34-state threshold, but with the addition of states with left-leaning legislatures wanting to push amendments overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United that established corporate personhood, complete with the right to free speech, this effort might hit that mark, although it is unclear how many of them would favor an amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

The day after the subcommittee approved calling for a constitutional convention, the Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill that would allow officiants to refuse to perform marriages. Sponsor Rep. Jim Hill said that he was supporting the bill after hearing from judges and ministers who were worried they would be forced to perform marriages they did not agree with.

HB56, known as “The Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act,” would “specify that those authorized to solemnize marriages pursuant to the laws of this state are not required to solemnize the marriage of any person; and to specify and further establish the rights of those associated with religious organizations, institutions, and societies as related to marriage recognition and solemnization.”

It would enable religious organizations to refuse to recognize marriages if they so chose, although the law is written broadly enough that it could be used to disregard or refuse to perform interracial marriages, for instance.

The bill is an attempt to pass a so-called “religious freedom” bill, some of which have been shot down in Ohio, Arizona and other states when it is pointed out that it is a thinly-veiled attempt to enshrine anti-gay discrimination, and that people are not having their religious freedoms impinged upon in the first place.

A Catholic priest, for instance, cannot be forced to perform a marriage in which one of the parties has been divorced. Clergy cannot be compelled to marry couples where one or both of the partners is outside of the faith.

The bill would, however, give carte blanche to judges to refuse to perform the duties of their office because of their religious convictions, or animus covered up by claims of religious conviction.

The legislature likely feels emboldened by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who told state judges not to perform same-sex marriages, despite federal court rulings that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The appellate and Supreme Courts both rejected bids to extend the stay in that decision.

Moore’s son, meanwhile, was arrested for the third time for possession of drugs, when police found him and some other young men standing around a pickup truck that smelled of marijuana smoke. Police found a bag of weed with some Xanax pills in it as well. The younger Moore blamed corrupt police and the media seeking to embarrass his father, who has already been removed from office once before being elected again to the bench.

On the federal front, the Liberty Education Forum, the Log Cabin Republicans’ think-tank, submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court ahead of next month’s oral arguments in the appeal of the Sixth Circuit’s decision upholding same-sex marriage bans.

The LGBT Republican organizations’ brief was tailored to try to sway Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the two most conservative members of the bench. Pointing to laws that allow married couples to donate more to political campaigns than two single people can separately, the brief asserts that marriage bans violate the First Amendment right to free speech.

Executive director Gregory T. Angelo noted, “In states that ban marriage equality, straight couples literally have twice the freedom of speech as their same-sex counterparts. While we hope this argument resonates with all nine members of the Supreme Court, our amicus brief, formally filed with the Supreme Court last week, was prepared with the express purpose of appealing to the conservative wing of the Court by expressing the very real and quantifiable limits to the First Amendment that exist because of marriage equality bans.”










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