Across America, a patchwork of laws on same-sex marriage

February 17, 2015

If you’ve been following the on-again, off-again saga of same-sex marriage through the Alabama courts, your head is probably spinning.

Same-sex weddings began last week in parts of the camellia state, but gay couples in more than half of its territory have not been afforded the right to marry. As the first map in this Reuters graphic shows, the state is currently a patchwork quilt of counties issuing marriage licenses to all couples, to opposite-sex couples only, or to no couples at all. In total, gay couples in 42 of the state’s 67 counties have encountered problems obtaining marriage licenses.

The second map in this Reuters’ suite of graphics, an interactive graphic offering county-by-county data around the nation, shows that as of the 2010 census, 21,782 same-sex couples lived together in the U.S., amounting to an average of 5.6 households per 1000 people. As things stand, gay couples in those 42 Alabama counties and their peers in places like Douglas County, South Dakota (17.2 same-sex households per 1000 people), DeKalb County, Georgia (15.15), Carroll County, Arkansas (9.83) and Washtenaw County, Michigan (9.04) are joined in being denied the right to wed.

Credit for the Alabama quilt goes to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who ordered state probate judges to ignore federal Judge Callie Granade’s ruling striking down the state’s law forbidding gay marriage. On Sunday, Justice Moore declared his right to defy the United Sates Supreme Court if it rules that gay marriage is constitutional. Speaking with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace, Justice Moore said:

When federal courts start changing our constitution by defining words that are not even there, like marriage, they’re going to do the same thing with family. In the future. When a word’s not in the Constitution, clearly, the powers of the Supreme Court do not allow them to redefine words and seize power… This power over marriage which came from God under our organic law is not to be redefined by the United States Supreme Court or any federal court.

The United States Constitution indeed does not contain the word “marriage”, but it doesn’t include the term “organic law” either. However, the Constitution affords for an array of rights, both enumerated and not, under the broader concept of natural rights. The Bill of Rights Institute explains:

Since they come from nature or from God, natural rights cannot be justly taken away without consent. As the Declaration of Independence asserts, natural (or ‘inalienable’) rights include ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Other natural rights are protected in the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech, religion, and press.

The debate may end by June, when the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the ability to marry the person of one’s choosing is among the natural rights that all Americans share equally. Then again, it may not.

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