Alabama chief justice: Marriage ruling worse than segregation decision

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Roy Moore, the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court and a leading opponent of same-sex marriage on Friday called the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize gay and lesbian nuptials nationwide “even worse” than the Court’s 19th century decision to uphold racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson.

“I believe it’s worse because it affects our entire system of morality and family values,” Roy Moore told CNN in a phone interview Friday.

Moore has consistently fought against same-sex marriage. In February, he ordered lower court judges in Alabama not to implement a federal court ruling that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

And like many other conservatives on Friday, Moore insisted that the Supreme Court ruled against the very constitution it is sworn to uphold.

“There is no such thing as same-sex marriage in the Constitution. The words are not there, we’ve never had it in our history,” Moore said. “Five judges on the Supreme Court, or justices, have presumed to find a fundamental right which has no basis in the history or logic or tradition of our country.”

Moore added: “I think the law of the land is plain. It’s the United States Constitution. Not an opinion of the Supreme Court which contradicts that law.”

Conservative officials in Alabama and other states sang a different tune, though.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, said Friday that the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t alter his convictions that marriage is “between one man and one woman,” but said he would follow the ruling.

“I have to uphold not only the constitution of Alabama, but I swore to uphold the constitution of the United States and we will uphold the law of the United States. I will uphold the law of the nation and this is now the law,” he told reporters Friday after emerging from an unrelated meeting.

Fellow conservative governors and attorney generals sounded off Friday with similar statements.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican whose state approved a same-sex marriage ban by referendum in 2000, was unequivocal.

“While 70% of Nebraskans approved our amendment to our state constitution that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, the highest court in the land has ruled states cannot place limits on marriage between same-sex couples,” Ricketts said online. “We will follow the law and respect the ruling outlined by the court.”

2016 candidates turn gaze to religious rights

Most Republican presidential candidates also slammed the ruling, but realistically assessed the slim odds of overturning the ruling. The most conservative candidates, though, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, vowed to push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

But many conservatives are now turning their attention to the fight to uphold religious liberty, fearing that same-sex rights could trample on religious rights.

Those fights have already unfolded in the form of private businesses — from cake makers to caterers — refusing to provide their services for same-sex weddings. And conservatives have fought back with attempts to preserve the rights to deny services to gay and lesbian couples with “religious freedom” bills.

Nearly every presidential hopeful’s statement reacting to the same-sex ruling alluded to the need to protect religious freedoms.

“It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a statement.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott took the first concrete step in that direction, issuing a memo on Friday directing government officials to protect and uphold religious freedoms.

“Texans of all faiths must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious freedom is beyond the reach of government. Renewing and reinforcing that promise is all the more important in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges,” Abbott wrote in the memo. “As government officials, we have a constitutional duty to preserve, protect and defend the religious liberty of every Texan.”

Even Moore acknowledges the legal realities of Friday’s ruling that assure same-sex marriages will go forward in deep red Alabama.

“I hope not,” he said. “But we do have a United States Supreme Court ruling, so I can’t say what’s going to happen.”