By Bob Allen
A Baptist minister with childhood memories of her parents supporting African Americans in the struggle for civil rights saw Monday’s introduction of gay marriage to Alabama as a chance to make her own mark on history.
Ellin Jimmerson, a documentary filmmaker ordained to the ministry by Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., in 2008, performed what is believed to be the city’s first same-sex wedding at a gathering of gay couples who lined up for marriage licenses at the Madison County Courthouse Feb. 9.
Jimmerson was one of a number of volunteers offering services such as photography, music, cakes and flowers as part of Wedding Week, a week-long effort originally planned at an arbor on the courthouse square but moved to a nearby park when more than 600 people RSVP’d with plans to attend.
Jimmerson, community minister at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church and director of The Second Cooler, a documentary film about migrant justice narrated by Martin Sheen, shared her views on Facebook about Alabama becoming the 37th state where gays can legally wed after a federal judge struck down laws banning same-sex marriage.
“One of the issues for many is whether same-sex marriages comport with biblical ideas of marriages,” Jimmerson wrote Feb. 6. “The truth is that people in the 21st century would not be comfortable with the kinds of marriages which are represented in the Bible.”
“For example, we would not be comfortable with the biblical model that is one man, one woman, one concubine,” she said. “Nor would we be comfortable with the idea of a widow being compelled to marry her brother-in-law. There is very little in the Bible which reflects the modern idea of one man and one woman united by love. That is where we have been comfortable for a long time now.”
Jimmerson, 63, said it was not too many years ago that people in Alabama “at last understood that the long-held ban on interracial marriages was hurtful and wrong.”
“We moved further down the road of love,” she said. “Now, most of us think nothing of interracial marriages.”
“On Monday, Feb. 9, the state of Alabama will move as a people even further down the road of love as the only legitimate basis for marriage,” she continued. “We as a people will recognize that God truly does love us all.”
Monday marked the end of a stay issued on the Jan. 23 decision by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. “Ginny” Granade ruling that both Alabama’s Marriage Protection Act and the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment are unconstitutional.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore made an 11th-hour effort to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal, issuing an order late Sunday night telling state probate judges to refuse to issue or recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s request for an additional stay until the high court decides later in the current term whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Moore’s order created enough confusion, however, that officials in at least 26 counties denied marriage licenses either to gay couples or did not issue marriage licenses to anyone at all, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions adopted a resolution Feb. 6 expressing “moral outrage, intense grief and strong disagreement” both with the Alabama court decision and others in recent months that “have effectively abolished biblical marriage as the only legally sanctioned form in numerous other states across our nation.”
A companion resolution warned that “the sacred institution of marriage is now under destructive attack throughout our society by certain governmental bodies, the military, corporations, as well as numerous other private and public entities.”
Jimmerson has both bachelor’s and master’s degree from Samford University. She earned a Ph.D. in U.S. history at the University of Houston. She also holds a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University specializing in liberation theology in Latin America.
She compared probate judges’ refusal to conduct wedding ceremonies in Madison County and surrounding counties to Gov. George Wallace standing in schoolhouse doors to block desegregation of schools ordered by the federal government in 1963.
“This means that same-sex couples, many of whom have no pastor because they have not been welcome in their own churches, would have had nowhere to turn had it not been for the good people who have organized Wedding Week,” Jimmerson said.
“I have been invited to officiate at the first ceremony and to offer a short inspirational homily to those gathered in downtown Huntsville Monday morning,” she said. “I am deeply touched by the invitation and have agreed enthusiastically.”
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