The Washington Post‘s Monica Hesse has a fascinating profile of Bobby Martin, one of the probate judges in Alabama who has had to deal with the U.S. Supreme Court and Alabama’s own Chief Justice telling him contradictory things about whether he can marry gay couples over the past week:
Martin said he believed that same-sex marriage went against the Bible, but he’d sworn an oath to the U.S. Constitution, and the federal law said to issue the licenses. So he would, he decided. Licenses to everyone. But by close of business on Tuesday, no other couples, gay or straight, had come in asking for one, and Martin switched off his lights and left for a haircut.
He’d always liked marrying people. Four generations of his family had worked in the funeral business, seeing families at their worst, and weddings were a chance to see them at their best. Valentine’s week was his busiest time: One year, he’d married six couples in a single day; another time it was three couples all at once, standing in a row before his bench as he pronounced them husband and wife. He averaged 15 or 16 weddings a month, which over the course of his career equaled — he’d recently found a calculator to do the math and raised his eyebrows at the result — “4,992 weddings.”
It’s a great profile, but I’m going to sidestep this whole gay marriage controversy for a moment because there was another passage in the piece that raised a completely different issue:
He now went behind his bench, where he kept a box of Gideon New Testaments that he’d handed out to every couple he married. He opened a drawer, where he stored the frayed black binder full of ceremonies he’d scripted for various types of weddings. The pages were yellowing and torn, caked with archaeological layers of Wite-Out, onto which he’d handwritten the names of whichever couple was standing before him: Jason and Carol. Jerry and Tiffany. Gene and Joanie. James and Felicia.
So… have a court wedding and get a free Bible? Since when has that been legal? This is the same guy who swore an oath to the U.S. Constitution, right? Can I send him a box of Korans or Satanic Temple coloring books to give away to newly-married couples, too?
I’m assuming that couples getting married aren’t really interested in ending the ceremony with a fight over the Establishment Clause, but surely this would be a problem if it were any non-Christian holy book.
But then the story just moves on, back to the controversy at hand about whether a Christian judge should issue licenses to gay couples, refuse on principle, or just retire so he doesn’t have to perform his duties.
Meanwhile, the box of Bibles is still behind his bench.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Alan for the link)