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Exchanging Vows, Alabama Same-Sex Couples Make History in a State Where Discrimination Runs Deep

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Alabama has become the 37th state to allow same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state’s bid to block the unions. Same-sex couples lined up to marry in parts of the state, including Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery. But on Tuesday, 44 of Alabama’s 67 counties reportedly continued to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses after Sunday’s conflicting order from an Alabama Supreme Court justice. Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered judges and officials not to issue or recognize the licenses, arguing the local courts are not beholden to a federal court ruling that struck down the ban. Now, a federal judge has set a hearing that could determine whether resistant local probate judges must grant the licenses. While marriage-equality advocates have welcomed recent developments in the historically conservative state, they warn that much work remains to be done. Alabama is one of the 30 states where it is still legal for an employer to fire LGBT employees. We are joined by Tori and Shanté Wolfe-Sisson, who made history Monday by becoming the first same-sex couple to marry in Montgomery.

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Video squareStoryMar 10, 2015First Wedded Same-Sex Couple in Montgomery, Alabama, on Fight for Marriage Equality & Civil Rights
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Alabama has become the 37th state to allow same-sex marriage, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state’s bid to block the unions. Same-sex couples lined up to marry in parts of the state, including Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery. But on Tuesday, about 44 of Alabama’s 67 counties reportedly continued to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses after Sunday’s conflicting order from an Alabama Supreme Court justice. Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered judges and officials not to issue or recognize the licenses, arguing the local courts are not beholden to a federal court ruling that struck down the ban. Moore is the same judge who refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument from in front of a judicial building in the early 2000s, a showdown he eventually lost. Now, a federal judge has set a hearing that could determine whether resistant local probate judges must grant the licenses.

The group Human Rights Campaign has issued a statement saying, quote, “We urge Alabama’s political leadership not to stand on the wrong side of history. It’s time for all LGBT Alabamians to have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to marry the person they love.” The group also released this video.

REP. PATRICIA TODD: I’ve seen the needle move since I’ve been here, but it’s hard work. You’re going to get beat up upon. You’re going to be in the minority. But we can make true progress.

GIO GIBBONS: Do I see it in the future happening? Yes, I could.

FERGUS TUOHY: There is a vibrant gay community in the state of Alabama, and there’s a lot of really, really good people. It’s a “family values” state. And when I say “family values,” I don’t mean what it used to mean—you know, anti-gay. I mean that people love their families.

AMY GOODMAN: That was part of a video released by Human Rights Campaign Alabama. While marriage-equality advocates have welcomed recent developments in the historically conservative state, they warn much work remains to be done. Alabama is one of the 30 states where it’s still legal for an employer to fire LGBT employees.

For more, we go to Montgomery, Alabama, where we’re joined by Tori and Shanté Wolfe-Sisson. On Monday, they made history by becoming the first same-sex couple to marry in Montgomery. Tori is field organizer for Human Rights Campaign Alabama. This is part of the vows she read during her wedding to Shanté.

TORI SISSON: The beat of your heart enumerates reasons for being, while the strength of your soul waters our seeds. You are tangible, serpentine, fire, goddess, queen, bearer of peace, the last face I hope to see before I depart from this realm. And the touch I know will awake my slumber, may it be yours. I do promise to be committed and true. And all that you need from me, I will be for always and forever yours.

AMY GOODMAN: Tori and Shanté Wolfe-Sisson join us now in Montgomery. Congratulations on your wedding. Welcome to Democracy Now! How does it feel to make history?

TORI WOLFE-SISSON: It feels like we need a nap.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about your decision to get married, when you did, where you did.

SHANTÉ WOLFE-SISSON: Actually, this same month a year ago, we eloped and had a spiritual ceremony, and we said that we wouldn’t go anywhere else, because we work here, we pay our taxes here, and we’re not going to go to another state just to come back and our union not be recognized. We’ve had several people tell us, “Well, just go to New York, or just go somewhere else.” But no, we had faith that Alabama would move in a positive direction. And it has.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tori, the controversial decision by Judge Moore, basically creating a showdown now between the federal courts and the Alabama courts?

TORI WOLFE-SISSON: Well, it’s not a decision. He made a statement. And what he’s asking of people, it sounds like it’s illegal, so…

AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to the judges? Since he made his statement about not performing these ceremonies, what are your feelings, Tori? You also happen to be the field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama.

TORI WOLFE-SISSON: I do. It’s really hard to say anything about his statements, aside from that it sounds like he’s standing in the way of justice and progress in Alabama. And we need—we need to stop that legacy of officials doing that in this state.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how you met and how you came to decide to be married, even before it was legal in Alabama?

SHANTÉ WOLFE-SISSON: Actually, we met on the floor of our apartment. I came to Tuskegee to visit my sister. My sister went to her alma mater. And actually, we’ve been following each other in circles for seven years, but we never actually formerly met. So, when I came down here, I thought she was cute, but I didn’t think I was going to see her again, so I asked her a million and one questions, and she took my number down. She was supposed to email me some information that she never got to me about. So, ironically, a month later, I came back down for homecoming, and she said, “I’m so sorry I didn’t email you about all the things that I was supposed to talk to you about.” And I didn’t know who she was, because she never contacted me, and she was dressed like she was going to a funeral. So I was just like, “Well, OK, that’s fine.” So, we ended up talking, and we hit it off. And once again I left her. And the next morning, that Sunday morning, she sent me a text message, finally, and she was like, “I hope you’re in Georgia, Tuskegee Homecoming 2013.” And I was like, “Who is this?” And she got upset with me, and she was like, “This is Tori.” And she asked me if she could kidnap me, which really meant could she take me on a date. And she was late to our first date. But obviously she made up for it, because we’re here talking to you guys now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tori, could you talk about the long battle to achieve marriage equality in Alabama, what some of the steps have been over the last few years of those seeking to gain equality?

TORI WOLFE-SISSON: Yeah, there have been quite a few organizations that have been working to achieve equality, in addition to the Human Rights Campaign. And some of the methods have been providing visibility, being—like we’re regular people, so when more numbers of the LGBTQ community come out to community events, volunteering, it lets the general population really see us. And once you can attribute a person to these few—this alphabet soup of letters that people oftentimes don’t understand, it’s harder to discriminate against. So one of the biggest methods in fighting the discrimination and the injustice that’s going on in the state in terms of the LGBT community has been to provide visibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Alabama’s Chief Justice Roy Moore has been one of the state’s most outspoken critics of same-sex marriage. In a 2002 ruling in a child custody case, he called homosexuality a, quote, “inherent evil.” And on the campaign trail in 2012, he said same-sex marriage would be the, quote, “ultimate destruction” of the country. Earlier this month, Justice Moore appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROY MOORE: Do they stop with one man and one man, or one woman and one woman, or do they go to multiple marriages? Or do they go with marriages between men and their daughters, or women and their sons?

AMY GOODMAN: Moore also recently told the Associated Press, quote, “Eighty-one percent of the voters adopted the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment in the Alabama Constitution. I think they want leaders that will stand up against an unlawful intrusion of their sovereignty, and that’s what we’re seeing,” he said. Tori Wolfe-Sisson, if you could respond?

TORI WOLFE-SISSON: Well, that data comes from an election quite some time ago, so we’re using outdated data, for starters. Also, what’s confusing about and problematic about his statements are that relationships happen regardless of their legitimacy. And the problems come when—right now, I’ve sprained my ankle, and so my right driving foot is in a boot. The person that drives me around is my now wife. When—if she needs to go to the hospital, or if I need to go, aside from this little piece of paper that says that we are legally married, in a lot of places I would not be able to visit her in the hospital, because the nondiscrimination policies do not extend to the LGBT community, our gender identity, sexual orientation, and that’s a problem. So, we’re not—I don’t really understand where some of his statements are coming from, what he’s grasping from in the midst of the air. But it’s confusing and problematic that there are people who are in love and operating as families, maybe not in the traditional sense that he’s accustomed to, but they are families that love each other and care for each other. And their rights, protections, responsibilities and duties that are—that are deserved by families that are operating as families, it’s not possible to have them without that piece of paper, so…

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to turn to Alabama’s first openly gay state legislator, Democratic State Representative Patricia Todd of Birmingham. She has threatened politicians who claim same-sex marriage is against family values by saying she plans to out those politicians’ extramarital affairs. This is Todd speaking late last month.

REP. PATRICIA TODD: We have families that will now be legitimized overnight, children who will be affected and be able to call both parents mom or dad. And I am touched by the love that I’ve seen in these families who have children that would go to any length to protect their kids. And that’s what it’s all—that’s a true family value. Many of you all know that I have thrown the gauntlet down to my elected peers that should they decide to go and spout that family value, that I’m going to call them out. And I’m willing to jeopardize my political campaign to do it. This is the fight of our life. This is why I ran for office. I’m not a politician; I’m an activist.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was state Representative Patricia Todd of Birmingham. Shanté, your reaction to her in-your-face advocacy?

SHANTÉ WOLFE-SISSON: I think it’s very selfless of her to be willing to put her reputation on the line for equality. I think it’s—it’s something about this that brings out the best and the worst about others. And I don’t understand why people feel like, in the terms of religion, one sin is better than the other, or we can’t talk about things that you’re doing, but—it just doesn’t make sense. And I totally understand where she’s coming from. I don’t blame her for saying anything that she said. And I stand in solidarity for her, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Tori and Shanté Wolfe-Sisson. They made history Monday when they became the first same-sex couple to marry in Montgomery, Alabama. Tori is the field organizer for Human Rights Campaign Alabama. Congratulations, once again.

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