Same-sex Marriage Comes to the Deep South

As of yesterday, same-sex marriage was officially go in Alabama; at least, in some parts of it:

As I predicted last week, the larger cities in Alabama are issuing licenses to same-sex couple, while the vast majority — 52 out of the state’s 67 counties — are refusing. It’s unclear whether the judges in the dissenting counties are trying to be obstinate on purpose or whether they’re just being cautious after Chief Justice Roy “Ten Commandments” Moore ordered Alabama judges not to give same-sex couples marriage licenses. While it’s highly unlikely that Moore actually has the authority to defy a federal order, I doubt that Alabama’s rural judges want to stick their necks out on gay marriage, even if they personally favor it, simply because most of their constituencies oppose it.

Moore has to know that he can’t override a federal order, but as was the case with George Wallace when he proclaimed “segregation now, segregation forever,” the point is to make a big stink about being a martyr for “states’ rights.” While some Republicans like John Boehner see the writing on the wall and want to at least de-emphasize the anti-gay marriage rhetoric, the Southern culture warriors like Mike Huckabee, Roy Moore, and Bobby Jindal won’t give it up as long as it keeps firing up their base.

But the problem is that this base — conservative white evangelicals — is getting smaller. While the “solid South” has an outsized influence in politics, many of the most conservative parts of the region are rather small in terms of population. Mississippi and Arkansas, for example, only have about 2.99 million people and West Virginia only has 1.99 million. To put this in perspective, the population of the metro Atlanta is 5.490 million. The more conservative parts of the South may look down at Atlanta, chock full of “Yankees,” foreigners, and blacks, but there’s a reason why outsiders are flocking to Atlanta and not, say, Jackson, Mississippi (in fact, Mississippi has a brain drain, in which  anyone who can leave, does leave: Atlanta represents the future of the region, while the more “traditionally Southern” areas are dying out. The Southern rural economy hasn’t been sustainable in decades, and one could make the argument that it was built to fail from the beginning.

There are enough white evangelical culture warriors to sustain an anti-gay marriage movement in 2015, but at some point, they’re going to have to see that it’s a waste of time. The punitive “religious freedom” bills that some red states are drafting may buy the anti-LGBT forces some time, but such legislation is merely making them look bad in the eyes of the younger generation, who are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality. Perhaps the same-sex marriage fight could lead to a new “Lost Cause” ideology that pits virtuous white Southern Christians against evil “Yankee” secular humanists and their “gay agenda.” The most hardline religious conservatives are already retreating into their own ideological and cultural ghettos and universal same-sex marriage may accelerate this trend.

Still, the fact that some same-sex couples in Alabama were able to get legally married is a momentous event, and I didn’t think I’d ever it happen (I actually thought Georgia would get same-sex marriage before Alabama, so I’m a little jealous).  That same-sex couples crowded Alabama courthouses at dawn to be legally married illustrated that the Southern LGBT community is standing up for itself. Watch out, Yazoo City, you could be next.