If you’d even consider asking “What’s the difference?” between Nazi Germany’s systematic murder of six million Jews and legal gay marriage, consider running for a seat on Alabama’s State Supreme Court. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore made just that comparison on June 29.
“Could I do this if I were in Nuremberg… say that I was following the orders of the highest authority to kill Jews?… Could I say I was ordered to do so?” The shocked interviewer reminded Moore that the Nuremberg trials had been about murder, not gay marriage. “Is there a difference?” he asked.
Moore’s comments were echoed by his personal attorney, Win Johnson, whom Moore appointed director of the legal staff of the state’s Administrative Office of Courts. Johnson was incensed by Governor Robert Bentley’s statement that he personally disagreed with the ruling, but would “uphold the law of the nation and this is now law.” He responded to the Governor in a letter that opened with “Jesus Christ is Lord of All.”
And then it got really weird.
Johnson called public officials “ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous,” and warned the Governor about using “the Nazi war-crimes trial defense: ‘My superiors (or the courts) told me to do it.’ You’re not standing for the rule of law when you capitulate to a law that defies God and exposes people to the wicked.”
Alabama rabbis were among many who reacted with outrage to these statements.
Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Emanu-El in Tuscaloosa, a noted Holocaust scholar and son of survivors, said, “As a scholar of both the Holocaust and other genocides I am appalled by this false analogy. Judge Moore should know better!”
Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar of Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville said that the comments revealed a shocking misunderstanding of history. “The Nuremberg Laws legalized discrimination against an entire class of people and made the Holocaust possible. The Supreme Court’s ruling was the opposite. The Court took a stand against discriminatory laws.”
The Alabama Holocaust Commission actively engages the state’s public school students with information about the history of genocide and was established to “foster understanding with education.” It might be time for them to start an outreach program in the state’s law schools as well.
Political posturing aside, nothing could dim the joy of happy couples, gay rights activists, and straight allies who celebrated statewide at impromptu rallies and parties.
Probate Judges in most of the state’s urban counties began issuing licenses the day of the ruling. But even as happy couples popped corks and cut cakes in some parts of the state, would-be brides and grooms in other counties were not so lucky.
More than one observer has opined that, while Missouri may be the “Show Me” state, Alabama is the “Make Me” state, and Alabama’s Supreme Court proved the truth of it. Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court instructed the state’s Probate Judges to not issue licenses for 25 days, in order to give the U.S. Supreme Court time to “review” its rather unambiguous decision.
Most counties ignored the order, but others grabbed it like a lifeline. In spite of an explicit order from Judge Granade to begin issuing licenses, Probate Judges in 3 counties are issuing licenses to straight couples only, and 13 counties are refusing to issue any marriage licenses at all.
“They’re upholding the sanctity of marriage by refusing to let anyone marry. How does that make any sense?” asked Teresa Tolbert, a resident of Covington County, a mostly rural county in Southeast Alabama near the Florida state line. She organized a group of several dozen people to protest Probate Judge Ben Bowden’s refusal to issue any marriage licenses.
Many Alabama politicians are digging in for a fight and warning about the “persecution of Christians” — because apparently that’s a major concern in a state where 86% of residents identify as Christian.
The state’s Public Service Commission even got in on the act. Commissioner Chip Beeker denounced both a “runaway judiciary” that he sees as a “bigger threat than ISIS” and “liberal judges who have done more harm to our country and Constitution than Al Qaeda.”
“Gone With The Wind,” that canon of Southern historical revisionism, did contain nuggets of truth about the South. “Southerners can never resist a losing cause,” Rhett Butler noted. It’s true. On June 27, several hundred Dixie dead-enders gathered at the State Capitol to protest removal of the Confederate Flag. Some wore Confederate garb and others carried signs that proclaimed “Southern Lives Matter.”
Some people in the state are still fighting a war that was lost 150 years ago. The battle for marriage equality in the state is less than a year old. There’s a long road ahead.
What will the reaction be after the state Supreme Court’s 25-day stay ends with no action from the U.S. Supreme Court? There’s no way to tell. Never underestimate the capacity of the “Make Me” state to drag out the inevitable.