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Ken Hare In Depth: 'Here we go again' should be Alabama's official motto

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Here we go again, with state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore denying that the state's judiciary has to bow to the federal judiciary on issues of constitutionality.

Here we go again, with some state officials trying to ignore federal courts on an issue of equal rights.

This time the issue is same-sex marriage; 50 years ago it was racial justice. Eventually, the federal judiciary and Congress imposed its will on recalcitrant Alabama state officials on issues involving equal treatment of minorities.

Eventually, the federal government also will impose its will on stubborn state officials on the issue of gay marriage. That's already happened in 25 states, and it will happen here as well. It's foolish to think that somehow Alabama is going to be "special" and manage to ignore the federal judiciary.

But what exactly will be imposed remains to be seen. Federal judges have ruled dozens of times that state-mandated bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional, but the final authority -- the U.S. Supreme Court -- has yet to definitively decide the issue.

A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court could come as early as June. However, no one knows for sure how much clarity the court will give to the issue.

Currently, gay marriage is legal in 36 states. In 25 of those states, it was imposed by the courts. In eight of those states, the issue was decided by the state legislature. And in three of those states, gay marriage was approved by popular vote.

That leaves Alabama as one of 14 states where gay marriage is still banned. But Alabama is also one of eight states where that ban has been overturned by a judge, but the ruling is under appeal.

Most reasonable people recognize that this is an issue that involves the U.S. Constitution and that federal judges can decide that issue. But not so Alabama Chief Justice Moore.

In an interview with WSFA's Jennifer Horton, Moore said that rulings by lower court federal judges involving gay marriages were only advisory, and that it was "tyranny" for the federal government to try to impose its will on Alabama.

[READ MORE: AL chief justice calls fed rulings on same-sex marriage 'tyranny' 1/27/15]  

Moore has been down this road before, and the last time it cost him his job as chief justice.

In his first term as chief justice in 2003, Moore used very similar arguments to try to justify his ignoring a federal court order to remove the Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the Alabama Supreme Court offices. That led to him being removed from office by the state Court of the Judiciary.

Now here we go again, with Moore urging state officials to ignore the federal judge's ruling.

It makes sense for the federal courts to stay the Alabama ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court has time to rule this summer. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals may issue just such a stay.

But a decision on a stay rests with the appeals court, not with Roy Moore or with county probate judges, and the ultimate decision on the issue of gay marriage rests with the U.S. Supreme Court, not Roy Moore or the Alabama Legislature or the governor. It is time for state and county officials to recognize that this issue is now firmly in the hands of the federal courts, and that any attempt by them to try to retain control is just going to waste tax dollars.

Ultimately, the gay marriage issue needs to be decided at the federal level. No one is served by a hodge-podge of state laws, since every state is clearly required to recognize marriages performed in other states.

Alabama's official motto is "Audemus jura nostra defendere", which translates to "We Dare Defend Our Rights."

Maybe a more realistic motto should be "Hic nos iterum," or loosely, "Here we go again."

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Ken Hare is a longtime newspaper editor and editorial writer who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com.

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