MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As a Vietnam War veteran, Roy Moore is no stranger to a fight. But today he’s engaged in a battle of a different kind – one being waged in the courts.
Moore, Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, is an ardent and outspoken supporter of traditional marriage.
His latest move stirred the debate into a frenzy, when he ordered Alabama’s probate judges to stop granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples after U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade struck down the state’s constitutional amendment upholding traditional marriage and preventing gays from taking their vows.
The measure, known as the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which defines marriage as an “inherently” and “unique” “sacred covenant” between a man and a woman, was approved by 81 percent of the state’s voters in 2006.
“To me it boils down to the simple fact that federal courts across this land have mandated their will, unlawfully, over the people of the states,” he told CBN News in an exclusive interview at his office. “Thirty-seven states didn’t legalize [same-sex marriage]. Federal courts came in and mandated they accept this.”
The conflicting orders put the state front and center in the national debate over marriage, making Alabama the first state to defy a federal judge’s ruling on the issue.
It is now as much of a case on state courts versus federal courts as it is a question of states’ rights versus equal rights.
“This began not as defiance of a federal court order. In fact, I was simply clarifying for the court and everybody else in the state of Alabama that this one federal judge did not have authority to issue orders to the probate courts who were not under her case and not involved in the case,” Judge Moore explained.
He told CBN News that before giving his order, he asked the governor and state attorney general to get involved and issue an executive. Neither did.
“There’s a lot of feeling out there that this was embarrassing to the state and somehow it would cost revenue and loss of jobs – at least that’s what the governor said. I feel otherwise,” he said.
“I think to stand up for the moral foundation upon which the nation is based and which our faith is based and our laws are based is very important and could not let these marriages occur,” he said.
Moore’s position is that state courts have just as much authority to interpret the U.S. Constitution as the federal courts do, and that the debate over marriage isn’t about equal protection.
Instead, he says it’s about redefining an age-old institution that has long formed the foundation of families.
“No federal court, to include the U.S. Supreme Court, has authority to go into the Constitution and define the word marriage. Marriage was defined long before our country began,” he told CBN News.
“If we allow federal courts to intrude into the subject of marriage, then they will intrude into the subject of parent and child and husband and wife. And this is very important because this won’t end with two men getting married or two women getting married,” Moore warned.
Critics call Moore a bigot, homophobic, and intolerant. Some have even compared him to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who infamously fought a federal government order to integrate the University of Alabama.
“This is about sexual preference. The other is about a natural genetic makeup which should not be discriminated against,” he said. “And when you’re talking about these things, you’re mixing something up with racial discrimination, which is not discriminating on the basis of a preference.”
Moore recently received support for his argument from one of the most unlikely places: The New York Times.
In a recent opinion piece titled, “What Alabama’s Roy Moore Got Right,” he was described as “provocative and out-of-touch,” but the article added, “As for the word ‘marriage,’ Moore is right that the Supreme Court cannot mandate how we use a word, any more than it can create a social institution on its own.”
“When the liberal newspapers, The New York Times, start saying you’re doing something right, that’s a good thing,” Moore explained.
“What is your fear of what will happen if people like you don’t take this stand?” CBN News’ John Jessup asked Moore.
“Because it’s not just redefining marriage, it’s giving no definition to marriage,” he replied. “So we’re destroying an institution ordained by God, and under the 10th Amendment, they’re [the federal courts] not entitled to change our laws.”
It’s a debate many believe will be resolved by the Supreme Court before the end of its current term in June.