MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore appeared before a judicial discipline panel Wednesday to answer accusations that he tried to block gay couples from marrying in the Deep South state.
The outspoken Republican jurist could be removed from office for the second time in 13 years if the Court of the Judiciary finds he violated the state’s canons of judicial ethics.
Moore is accused of urging Alabama’s 68 probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Moore has vehemently denied the accusation, saying he never told probate judges what they should do on the subject of gay marriage.
The charges against Moore involve a January administrative order he sent probate judges. Moore said an Alabama Supreme Court order the previous March to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples had not been lifted and remained in “full force and effect.”
The nine-member Court of the Judiciary is weighing Moore’s intent: Was his memo a defiant effort to try to block gay marriage, or, as Moore contends, a well-meant response to state judges who had raised questions about the status of the state court’s March order.
“He merely gave a status report on the pending case and the JIC overstepped its authority to bring these politically-motivated charges,” said Moore’s attorney Mat Staver.
Staver said probate judges sought clarity because the Alabama Supreme Court had not lifted the order after indicating it would make a decision.
A lawyer for the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which brought the charges, told the court last month that Moore’s purpose was clear and that he’s trying to “pretend away” the charges now.
“He was on a mission not to recognize federal law on same-sex couples,” attorney John Carroll said.
Alabama’s chief justice stands accused during a season of political upheaval in the state. Alabama’s house speaker was removed from office this summer for ethics violations, and a committee is investigating if there are grounds to impeach Gov. Robert Bentley after he was accused of having an affair with a top staffer.
Before the hearing began, rainbow flags dotted one side of the street outside the judicial building as Moore supporters blared Christian music, blew a ram’s horn and said prayers on the steps.
“Equal marriage is the law. Love will always win,” Madison Clark of Montgomery said as she wore a version of the rainbow flag draped across her shoulders.
Demonstrators in support of Moore said they are against homosexuality, and believe he’s been falsely accused.
“The truth is homosexuality is wrong,” said Donna Holman who traveled 12 hours from Iowa and carried a sign saying “It’s not Ok to be gay.”
Other Moore supporters tried to distance themselves from the ones waving signs such as “Sodomy ruins nations.”
And Hannah Ford of the Sanctity of Marriage group joined with a few demonstrators from both sides to pray for a peaceful day. The two sides can disagree without resulting to hate, she said.
Moore, previously best known for his defiant display of a Ten Commandments monument at the state house, returned to national prominence during the legal wrangling in Alabama over same-sex marriage.
The Court of the Judiciary in 2003 removed Moore as chief justice after he refused to obey a federal court order to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building. He was re-elected in 2012.
It requires a unanimous vote on the nine-member Court of the Judiciary to remove Moore from office.