I don’t know a thing about the mercy of God: I don’t know how awful the human heart looks to Him. But I do know this — that if there’s ever been a single man in this state damned, then I’ll be damned, too…. I wouldn’t want it to be any different. I just want justice, that’s all.
— Graham Greene, “The Power and the Glory”
I am a Christian. I do not make this declaration in some misguided and spiritually ill-advised attempt to exalt myself, for like the unnamed Catholic priest who is the protagonist of Greene’s literary masterpiece, I find myself sorely wanting as an exemplar of the faith I profess and the devotion to which I aspire. On those periodic occasions when I catch myself presuming otherwise, I only need look behind me, at a path strewn with the detritus of my shortcomings, to be reminded of my insufficiency as a vessel of Christ’s teaching.
Another way of saying this is that the endless task of striving for the perfection of my own soul generally keeps me far too busy — not to mention disinclined — to render judgments based on how closely the spiritual beliefs of other people adhere to, or differ from, mine. To paraphrase the late, great Andy Griffith, if I’m going to take it on myself to start casting people headlong into the lake of eternal fire for sins real or perceived, I’d have to start by reaching around and getting a good hold on the seat of my own britches.
Of course, there are those who do not have the same compunction as I. Take Mike Hubbard, who is for the present the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives and arguably the most powerful politician in our fair state. More specifically, take Hubbard’s response to the unexpected federal court ruling on Jan. 23 that the “Sanctity of Marriage” amendment to the Alabama Constitution — defining marriage explicitly as being “between one man and one woman” — is not in keeping with the rights and protections provided to all citizens by the Constitution of the United States.
It is outrageous when a single unelected and unaccountable federal judge can overturn the will of millions of Alabamians who stand in firm support of the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, Hubbard wrote in a statement that appeared on (and since has been removed from) his Facebook page and via other social media outlets. The Legislature will encourage a vigorous appeals process, and we will continue defending the Christian conservative values that make Alabama a special place to live.
Where to start with a reasoned critique of this statement? Perhaps with the Speaker’s assertion that “millions” of Alabama residents “stand in firm support” of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, which is an outright prevarication. The amendment passed in 2006 — interestingly enough, the same year in which Alabama’s first openly gay legislator was initially elected to office — with 697,591 people voting “Yes.” That’s a hefty number, to be sure, one that represented 81 percent of votes cast on the measure; but it’s far short of “millions” expressing their “will” on the matter.
But, hey, most politicians exaggerate — and even lie — as routinely as they brush their teeth in the morning. So let’s be charitable — a Christian value in and of itself — and cut Hubbard some slack on that one.
Of more concern to me is Hubbard’s concept of the “Christian conservative values that make Alabama a special place to live.” Now, I’m a lifelong Alabamian who made up my mind a long time ago that there is no place on earth I’d rather live — but I can think of no better time than this to make clear that Alabama is special to me in spite of the intrusion of the so-called “conservative values” that Hubbard espouses.
In just the past few years alone, these values have resulted in a raft of bad legislation and policies that has disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands — if not, literally, millions — of Alabamians and done nothing but exacerbate age-old obstacles to progress and prosperity. The HB 56 immigration law, which ultimately was gutted by federal courts. The Alabama Accountability Act, a “school choice” measure that in actuality is nothing less than an assault on the very concept of public education. Gov. Robert Bentley’s refusal to expand the state’s Medicaid system to accommodate implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act and thereby provide health insurance for more than 300,000 of his constituents who currently do not have it.
Individually and collectively, these and other actions that reflect “Christian conservative values” have made Alabama’s most vulnerable residents — children, the elderly, the chronically ill, immigrants, poor people as a whole — even more so. And, by and large, the man conducting that train is Mike Hubbard, whose invoking of God and Jesus in the service of his political agenda have become even more pronounced since his indictment last fall on 23 felony corruption counts stemming from the alleged use of his office — and his prior position as head of the Alabama Republican Party — for personal gain.
Still and all, the most troubling aspect of Hubbard’s statement about Judge Ginny Granade’s striking down of Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage is his railing against “unelected and unaccountable” federal judges. One of the many comments I read on social media in the immediate wake of Granade’s ruling characterized her as having “a moral compass and a thorough understanding of the Constitution.” Conversely, another commenter noted that Hubbard’s subsequent statement indicated his “complete disregard for both the Constitution and the Bible.”
Here again, it’s advisable to be aware that Hubbard’s words, with their echoes of the resistance of previous high officials of our state to things like school integration and the extension of voting rights to black citizens, were chosen for rhetorical effect — playing to the crowd, as it were. I am fairly certain that the Speaker is not ignorant of the Founders’ very well-considered intent to establish the U.S. Constitution and other federal statutes as the supreme law of the land — which makes his conscious expression of disrespect for the principles on which our nation was founded all the more reprehensible, and dangerous.
As reflected by reports from various sources, Hubbard’s waving of the neo-Confederate banner has been joined by a succession of other top Alabama officeholders. Gov. Bentley has said that he is “disappointed” in Granade’s ruling, and opined that the decision on whether to allow same-sex marriage is one that should be “left up to the states.” Attorney General Luther Strange, ever on the alert for opportunities to burnish his conservative credentials in preparation for a run for governor in 2018, is fighting Granade’s ruling in court. And Chief Justice Roy Moore, no stranger to active defiance of the federal courts, says he will continue to enforce the marriage ban regardless of the ruling.
All of this obfuscation and nonsense goes to a deeper problem that plagues our government in Alabama and the nation, from the halls of Congress to the chamber of the Birmingham City Council. That problem is elected officials who want to be accorded respect without earning it, who either do not understand or refuse to acknowledge that their power is limited — indeed, that the only power they have derives from the people who elect them.
That is not true of federal judges. And for good reasons, every one of which has to do with the American promise, as yet unfulfilled, of justice for all.