Alabama pastor sees same-sex marriage as part of civil rights struggle

Shante Wolfe, left, and Tori Sisson joke around near the Montgomery, Ala., County Courthouse on Sunday, where they have camped out to get a marriage license.
(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

The arc of the moral universe is long, and the Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson couldnt be prouder that it’s finally bending toward same-sex marriage in Alabama.

On Monday morning, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, Jimmerson will preside over one of the first same-sex marriages in this state in the Deep South that once saw ferocious battles over the civil rights of black Americans. God is love, she plans to say, and marriage for same-sex couples is just.

“Gays and lesbians, bisexual, transgender, third-gender people are here to stay, and marriage for them is here to stay,” Jimmerson, a 63-year-old Baptist pastor from Huntsville, told the Los Angeles Times in a telephone interview Sunday night. “We can not like it, and push back, and buck it all we want to, but that way of looking at things is crumbling.”

If state officials begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Monday, as scheduled, Alabama will become the 37th state in the nation but the first state in the Deep South to do so.


At least one couple, Tori Sisson, 24, and Shante Wolfe, 21, of Tuskegee, camped outside the Montgomery County Courthouse on Sunday night in hopes of being the first couple to get a license, according to the Associated Press.

Jimmerson hopes the ceremony she conducts Monday morning at a large gathering of same-sex couples in Huntsville will be the first in the city, barring a stay from the Supreme Court.

Alabama has asked the high court, which is months from issuing a decision on same-sex marriage, to stay a lower court’s decision requiring it to permit such marriages.

On Sunday night, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In a letter, he wrote: “Effective immediately, no probate judge of the state of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with Article 1, Section 36.03, of the Alabama Constitution or 30-1-19, Ala. Code 1975,” the state laws banning same-sex marriage.

Earlier, Moore told the judges they were not bound by a federal judge’s recent ruling that overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage, and that issuing licenses to gays would be in “defiance of the laws and Constitution in Alabama.”

For Jimmerson, the friction reminds her of similar battles local officials waged - and lost - against the federal government decades ago during the civil rights era.


“I grew up in the civil rights movement; my parents were civil rights activists. I’m white in the Deep South, and it just seemed segregation and racism were just so a part of our DNA that we could never get past it,” Jimmerson said. Still, the nation passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. “If we’ve learned nothing else, we’ve learned that legislation can actually help people to move on past their fears and prejudices and insecurities.”

Jimmerson is slated to give a homily at 9 a.m. to launch “Wedding Week,” featuring same-sex marriages and celebrations in Huntsville. Hundreds are expected to attend.

She sees it as a celebration, “not a political statement,” with cupcakes and balloons and hair stylists arriving to help couples tie the knot in a state where many churches have condemned same-sex marriage.

“So many people who are gay or lesbian or transgender no longer have a church home, or a religious home, and they no longer have a pastor to go to” who can marry them, Jimmerson said.

But even as top Baptists with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions have expressed “moral outrage, intense grief and strong disagreement” over federal rulings that the state must allow same-sex marriages, Jimmerson found plenty of room in her faith for the practice.

On Friday, she published a passionate post on her Facebook page, directed toward other Christians, defending same-sex marriage.


“The truth is that people in the 21st century would not be comfortable with the kinds of marriages which are represented in the Bible,” Jimmerson wrote. “For example, we would not be comfortable with the biblical model that is one man, one woman, one concubine. Nor would we be comfortable with the idea of a widow being compelled to marry her brother-in-law.”

Nor, she added, are people comfortable with the idea of banning interracial marriages, as Alabama and other states once did. “It was not too many years ago that we in Alabama at last understood that the long-held ban on interracial marriages was hurtful and wrong,” Jimmerson wrote. “We moved further down the road of love. Now, most of us think nothing of interracial marriages.”

When same-sex marriage is legal, Jimmerson wrote, “the state of Alabama will move as a people even further down the road of love as the only legitimate basis for marriage.”

She’s not alone in her beliefs.

“The woman who organized media [for Wedding Week] is a Baptist, her wife is a Baptist Army chaplain and the two women who are getting married are Baptist,” Jimmerson told the Los Angeles Times, shortly after meeting with the couple for the first time Sunday before she was set to marry them Monday.

“We had a revival over there up in that room in the bar -- where we were drinking coffee, don’t get me in more trouble!” Jimmerson said with a laugh. “The thing about being Baptist is, we are kind of unruly and kind of messy.”

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Times staff writer Timothy M. Phelps contributed to this report.