29 April 2016
Dear Chief Justice Moore:
As a citizen of Alabama, I am rather disappointed in your press conference comments. Not only did they portray the events on January 12th incorrectly, they expressed defamation of character of a private citizen.
The facts are Ambrosia Starling did not officiate a wedding on January 12th. I did. I am an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith and serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa. It is part of my religion to honor and bless the covenanted relations that we enter into and with couples that includes the rites of marriage. I do not do mock weddings. To have my faith honored with recognizing the marriages that I officiate is an example of the religious freedom that this country honors and values since the days of the founding of this nation’s constitution. It is in the Bill of Rights that the government shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or the practice thereof.
Yet, for far too long, this country has forbade my religion’s right to solemnize marriages of same gender weddings and have them recognized by the state. You say this is not about religion, but it is, Justice Moore. It is. By denying equal marriage rights, you are declaring your faith doctrines to be supreme over all religious doctrines and practices and that is simply not the American way in regards to religious freedom. Religious freedom means being able to practice one’s religion without fear of government censure. Not being able to have couples’ marriages recognized by the state is a form of government censure of religion. For you to declare the wedding I officiated a mockery is a show of profound disrespect of the religion I serve as minister. A religion whose American roots date back to the founding of this nation.
The bills being passed under the guise of religious freedom are privileging a certain sect of Christianity. It does not represent the whole of Christianity nor does it protect any other religions’ practice. It is sanctioned discrimination against anyone whose faith does not align with this branch of Christianity. This is not religious freedom. It is religious oppression.
I am authorized by my church and faith tradition to officiate marriages of same gender couples. The marriage I officiated on January 12, 2016, included the signing of the marriage license issued by a probate judge in Alabama. That certificate was filed according to Alabama statutes and a marriage certificate was issued the couple recognizing them as a married couple. If this marriage was illegal and in defiance of your order as you claim, then I would have expected the probate judge to not have issued the license. Further, I would expect that if this was illegal that you would file charges against probate judges who did not follow your order, making every probate judge who has issued licenses accountable to your ruling. But you have done no such filing and therefore, you have not enforced the law as you claim exists. Why? Because you know you have no authority to overrule the US Supreme Court ruling that lifted the ban on same sex marriages.
But that is not what you stated at the press conference. Instead you claimed the complaints were an attack on your character. You claimed you were a victim of the media misrepresenting your orders. Then you made defamatory statements insinuating the mental instability of a private citizen. You are not a licensed Mental Health professional, therefore you have no authority to diagnose or even publicly speculate on the mental health of another person.
As a judge in the attempts to answer complaints on your defiance of a US Supreme Court Ruling, you have once again violated your own profession’s ethics by making these inflammatory statements against a private citizen. It was an attempt to discredit Ambrosia Starling’s and other’s complaints against your ethical conduct. It was an attempt to inflict injury on Ambrosia Starling’s reputation. I see you. I see what you are trying to do and it is offensive, not only personally offensive, but offensive to the citizens of this state.
You defended your orders based on the Alabama Supreme Court ruling which by your own quoting the US Constitution at the press conference revealed that it was over ruled by the US Supreme Court. Your own words convict you. Yet, you insist you are in the right. You have shown repeated disregard for the US Supreme Court which ruled that the bans against same sex marriage are unconstitutional. Your own colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court do not side with you in this matter. In fact, your colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed on March 4 of this year, a challenge to same sex marriages made by some probate judges and a conservative policy group. The Alabama Supreme Court is adhering to the US Supreme Court ruling.
You state your orders are still in effect. Yet, even the Alabama Supreme Court by their dismissing the challenge declare your orders are not in effect any longer. If they were in effect still, then they would not have dismissed the challenge to same sex marriage. The federal and Alabama state courts have spoken on this matter. Your legal opinion has been declared unconstitutional by the highest court in the land. There is no conflict between the courts as you stated at your press conference. They are now in sync.
If you, in good conscience, cannot abide by the highest court in the land then to protect your integrity you need to step down as chief justice. The tide of change is coming to this country. We will finally live up to our highest ideals of liberty and justice for all. We will no longer privilege one religion over another in this nation. We will no longer privilege one class of people over another in this nation. We will no longer privilege one gender over another or one sexual orientation over another. We will no longer privilege one race over another in this nation. Those days are coming to an end. May they come quickly for people are suffering injustices in this land.
Rev. Fred L Hammond, MS, MDiv
Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa