I Do, But You Can’t


A wedding but is it legal? not here, not yet.

Sounds to me like some people need to get some business of their own.

By Cherri Ellis

Believe me when I say I am not mocking Alabama. I love Birmingham with the fierceness of choice: I may not have been born a steel magnolia, but I have dug my midwestern roots into your rich soil for 25 years now. Both the national anthem and the opening guitar riff of “Sweet Home Alabama” can make me cry.

In this great country of ours, the federal government gets to decide a lot of issues. The individual states, however, get to regulate the union of marriage. Through legal and social benefit, all 50 states allow and actively encourage marriage between a man and a woman. After that unifying fact, the states can’t agree on much where marriage is concerned.

Fourteen states allow for common law marriage, where you get all the benefits of being married if you just stay around long enough and behave like you’re married. The three legal requirements for you to be common law married are (1) You have to announce to each other that you’re married. (2)  You have to cohabitate and (3) You have to publicly represent yourself as married. (I guess you have to have been seen somewhere arguing about kids or money or laundry, and it’s a sealed deal.) Common law spouses can receive insurance benefits, their children enjoy legitimacy, and they can sue each other for support in the event of a “divorce.”

Provided of course, that they are not of the same sex. In our fair state, marriage is only prohibited if the union is bigamous, incestuous, one of the parties is under the age of 14, or …if the parties are of the same sex.

That seems to make such little sense to me. You can get married if you’re cousins. You can get married if you’re mentally ill or mentally handicapped. You can get married if you’re a child of 14. If you’re a man and a woman, you don’t even have to get married you can just act married and you’re considered married. Bring on the social security benefits!

But if you are a gay couple, you could live together for 30 years, have held a full–out religious ceremony announcing your vows, raised kids and grandkids together, and you know what you are legally? Roommates.

It wasn’t always spelled out like this. Up until 1993 gay marriage was only specifically prohibited in seven states. When the issue was revisited by Hawaii’s Supreme court in Baehr v. Lewin 852 P.2d 44, 74 Haw. 530, other states scrambled to prepare legislation that would keep them from having to acknowledge same sex marriages performed in other states. Three years later, Congress narrowed the definition of marriage to a contract between one man and one woman with its 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, Pub. L. No. 104–199, 110 Sat. 219. (I am not completely certain what the reference numbers mean, but I think you will agree that my having included them gives these facts an astonishing amount of legitimacy and weight.)

Discrimination continues to reinvent itself, but thankfully it can also outgrow itself. Do you realize that it was illegal for a mixed race couple to get married until 1967? That was the same year The Beatles put out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In 1967 the show “Star Trek” had already been on the air for a year! Now Seal and Heidi Klum rule Hollywood, and Charles Barkley and his wife Maureen, married since 1989, are ground breaking philanthropists for UAB’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, right here in the heart of the city that served as a backdrop for the Civil Rights Movement. Seeing how far we’ve come in 44 years makes me hopeful of where we’ll be in 44 more.

There is a movement underfoot to rewrite Alabama’s state constitution. It is the longest in the world, actually 40 times longer than the United State Constitution. It was written in 1901, has been amended 800 times, and contains language like “separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children.” I’m not saying the document is not chock full of helpful policy, but today right here in Alabama, bear wrestling matches are prohibited. It is, however, legal to drive the wrong way down a one-way street if you have a lantern attached to the front of your automobile, but it is illegal to sell peanuts in Lee County after sundown on Wednesday.

As recently as 2007, The Alabama Legislature showed infinite wisdom in banning the sale of sex toys. We should all drop our representatives a brief note thanking them for their efforts to protect us from our own moral turpitude. Thank God they’re here. You can’t buy a device designed to stimulate a body part, but you can buy stuff a lot more dangerous. There are fireworks on every exit off the interstate. (Fill in your own “going blind” joke here.) There is a shared parking shared parking lot on Highway 31 in Hoover that has a sign advertising Love Stuff adjacent to the sign for Hoover Tactical Firearms. Guess which store owner has been walked out in handcuffs? Last year Alabama ranked 10th highest in death by firearms, but you can’t buy what some coyly call a “marital aid.” That’s funny in a state so concerned with defining and narrowing the parameters of matrimony

One Response to “I Do, But You Can’t”

  1. hurricane says:

    what a great read, thanks Cherri for putting my feelings into language thats smarter and less polarizing than what usually comes out of my pie hole

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