written by Sebastian Kitchen, Montgomery Advertiser
The first openly gay lawmaker in Alabama history said Wednesday she is ecstatic about U.S. Supreme Court rulings in favor of gay marriage and plans to challenge Alabama's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
"The reality is, unfortunately in Alabama, the only way we ever progress any civil rights in this state is through a court decision," said Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham. "This is no different. We will have to use that process and move forward."
Todd, who plans to marry her partner Sept. 14 in Massachusetts, said she expects a number of lawsuits in states where there is a ban on gay marriage.
"The court really did open it up for us to have legal standing to challenge these," she said.
But House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, disagrees.
"The Supreme Court rulings on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 do not in any way impact the gay marriage prohibition that Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved in 2006," Hubbard said in a statement. "As long as I am speaker of the House, I will continue working to ensure that the laws on our books reflect the conservative principles and moral beliefs that the majority of Alabamians embrace."
Todd said she did not know how she would proceed legally at this point, said their attorney is reviewing the court decisions, and they will meet with their attorney and discuss possible options for a course of action. She said someone would have to apply for something, dealing with an issue such as taxes, an estate or health insurance coverage, and be denied to move forward with a legal issue.
Bill Armistead, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, called the Wednesday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act "disturbing." He said the Bible is clear on gay marriage, and said the ruling was "an affront to the Christian principles that this nation was founded on."
"I am disappointed to learn that (the Supreme Court) has struck down DOMA and will now require that federal benefits be extended to homosexual couples," Armistead said in a statement. He pushed the ban on same-sex marriage when he was a state senator.
"... The federal government is hijacking marriage, a uniquely religious institution, and they must be stopped," he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in favor of gay rights advocates in two high-profile cases.
The party chairman said that "U.S. taxpayers should not be forced by their government to reward those who choose to engage in activity that had been banned in 35 states."
"Alabama's state law banning gay marriage will prevent these benefits from being extended in Alabama, but our tax dollars will still go to support a lifestyle that we fundamentally disagree with," Armistead said.
The Alabama Legislature passed the ban on same-sex marriage in 1998. Alabama voters overwhelmingly, with 81 percent in favor, approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that prohibited gay marriage.
Longtime Democratic state Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery, who has repeatedly introduced legislation that would add crimes against people based on their sexual orientation to state hate crime laws, said he would support Todd and any legislative pushes to end the state's prohibition on same-sex marriage.
"I think a person has a right to marry whoever they want ... and not be regulated by state government," he said.
Holmes said the Supreme Court did not go as far as to state that same-sex marriage should be allowed in all states, which he would support.
"I think the gay community sort of hit a home run with the Supreme Court ruling," he said. "They didn't hit a grand slam."
Holmes said there have not been any issues in the states that have legalized gay marriage. He believes Alabama's ban is unconstitutional and violates the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Todd, who was first elected in a predominantly black district in Birmingham in 2006, said she would expect most of her Republican and some of her Democratic colleagues to disagree with her effort.
She said their beliefs, which she said are generally based on their biblical interpretation of marriage, "does not make them bad people - we just have a difference of opinion." She said this nation is based on the Constitution and while people "have a freedom to practice that religion however you want to, and I expect that, you cannot make law based on your religious interpretation of the Bible."
When asked how realistic it is that one day her marriage would be recognized in Alabama, Todd said "I have all of the confidence in the world now."
She said, at 57, she has seen a lot of social change in her lifetime.
"It always comes with a struggle and with people saying the world is going to end. This will be no different," Todd said. "But if you had told me five years ago we would have won this decision at this time, I would have never believed it, but we did. Now, it is time to move it a little closer by challenging state laws that are discriminatory."