On Monday night, the “big three” of ABC, CBS, and NBC each devoted a segment of their Monday evening newscasts to the news that Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and some local government officials chose not to carry out a federal ruling that calls for gay marriages to be permitted despite a voter-approved ban.
Naturally, the networks provided favorable coverage to those in favor of gay marriage, proclaiming that this “standoff” in Alabama has become “a full-blown civil rights battle” with ABC and CBS comparing Moore to then-Alabama Governor George Wallace, who tried to block the desegregation of the state’s schools in 1963.
The CBS Evening News led off its Monday program with its report, which began with anchor Scott Pelley declaring that “the Supreme Court clears the way” for gay marriage despite “[a] defiant state judge” and in turning setting off “a full-blown civil rights battle” in the Deep South state.
CBS News national correspondent Chip Reid reported that Moore was waging “a defiant challenge to federal authority” similar to one in 2003 when he refused to have a statute of the Ten Commandments removed from a courthouse.
Using wording that the liberal media would not dare use to describe President Obama’s executive orders, Reid fretted that the move had caused “a case of judicial chaos” in the state.
Reid also cited unnamed “civil rights activists” who “compare it to 1963 when then-Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama in opposition to federal orders to integrate Alabama schools.”
The case, unfortunately, was more of the same on ABC’s World News Tonight as anchor David Muir trumpeted it as “the new scandal this evening” with a “judge standing his ground” by “turning” gay couples “away” from being married.
Correspondent Steve Osunsami followed his CBS counterpart in bringing up the Wallace comparison by stating that Moore “rejects the idea that he's today's George Wallace, the Governor who also defied federal law, during court-ordered desegregation.”
What ABC and CBS failed to do in making the comparison was mention that Wallace was both a Democrat and racist while Moore is a Republican and emphasized his opposition to gay marriage “is not about race.”
In a question also leveled at Mike Huckabee on CNN earlier on Monday, Osunsami asked Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice if “you worry that you will end up on the wrong side of history here.”
Over on NBC Nightly News, anchor Lester Holt (whose subbing for Brian Williams) stated that Alabama became “the 37th state to allow” gay marriage where, “[a]mid cheers and celebrations there today, there were also protests and a new fight brewing” as Moore “leads a resistance” against gay marriage.
From there, Holt’s comments led into a report by correspondent Pete Williams, who actually gave a balanced report that included time summarizing opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of stay from Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
A partial transcript of the tease and segment that aired on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley on February 9 can be found below.
CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley
February 9, 2015
6:30 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]
SCOTT PELLEY: Tonight, a new civil rights battle on the courthouse steps in Alabama. A defiant state judge tries to block same-sex marriage, but the Supreme Court clears the way. Chip Reid is in Montgomery.
6:31 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Same-Sex Marriage]
PELLEY: We're beginning the broadcast tonight with a full-blown civil rights battle in Alabama. Today, most county offices there defied a federal court order allowing same-sex marriage. Many couples were turned away, some marriage license offices simply did not open. Last night, Alabama's Chief Justice banned same-sex marriage licenses. His ruling also in defiance of the federal court. Alabama would be the 37th state where same-sex marriage is permitted, and in some counties today, the licenses were granted.
CHIP REID: Last month, a federal judge struck down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage, finding it violated the U.S. Constitution. That decision took effect today, but not without judicial chaos.
ALABAMA CHIEF JUSTICE ROY MOORE: It's an aberration of our institution in Alabama. It violated Alabama law.
REID: In a defiant challenge to federal authority, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court ordered Alabama's probate judges not to issue marriage licenses.
MOORE: I don't like to say anybody shouldn't be happy, but nobody's stopping them from living together. It's about the institution of marriage and when that institution is destroyed, it's the basic building block of our society.
REID: In a state where most residents oppose same-sex marriage, many Alabama judges sided with Justice Moore, leaving some license bureaus empty. It's not first time Justice Moore has been at the center of a battle between state and federal power. In 2003, he refused to obey a federal court order to remove a monument of the 10 commandments from the courthouse. Civil rights activists say today's battle is only the latest example of Alabama resisting federal power. They compare it to 1963 when then-Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama in opposition to federal orders to integrate Alabama schools. Moore denies there is a connection between then and now.
MOORE: This is not about race. This is not about recognition that all people are created equal. This is about choice.
REID: No one here in Alabama knows what is going to happen next, Scott. It's a case of judicial chaos. The one thing we do know is that despite that federal order, in most of Alabama right now, same-sex couples cannot get a marriage license.
The relevant portions of the transcript from ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir on February 9 are transcribed below.
ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir
February 9, 2015
6:30 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Standoff]
DAVID MUIR: The new scandal this evening playing out right now over same-sex marriage. The judge standing up to the Supreme Court and we interview him.
6:37 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Marriage Battle]
MUIR: Now, to the standoff in Alabama tonight. The judge standing up to the Supreme Court, when it comes to same-sex marriage. Tonight, that state's Chief Justice leading the charge in defiance of the Supreme Court. The Justices today refusing to block same-sex marriage in Alabama, but tonight, that judge standing his ground. In Birmingham, same-sex couples waiting in line, but in many places, signs like this one, turning them away. ABC's Steve Osunsami in Alabama.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Marriage Battle; Alabama Judge Defies Supreme Court]
STEVE OSUNSAMI: There were wedding bells today in nearly 12 Alabama counties. Same-sex couples who never thought they'd see the day, but at least 51 county judges, that's most of them, are saying no to gay marriage and no to the federal judge who overturned the state's ban approved by voters. Joe Baker and Russell Wilson have shared a life together and today, joined 100 same sex couples in Mobile County, expecting their courthouse to comply with federal law and issue them a marriage license, but they were turned away.
JOE BAKER: We waited 33 years for this, I mean, it's a big disappointment.
OSUNAMI: Standing in their way, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, ordering judges Sunday night to refuse these couples.
ALABAMA STATE SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE ROY MOORE: Well, I think redefinition of the word marriage is not found within the powers designated to the federal government.
OSUNAMI: Moore famously defied a federal order to remove a stone monument of the ten commandments statue from a judicial building. He told me that gay marriage is wrong and says the federal lawsuit did not name him and only he has authority over judges who issue marriage licenses. He rejects the idea that he's today's George Wallace, the Governor who also defied federal law, during court-ordered desegregation. [TO MOORE] Do you worry that you will end up on the wrong side of history here?
MOORE: Wrong side of history? Absolutely not. Do they stop with one man and one man or one woman and one woman or do they go to multiple marriages or do they go marriages between men and their daughters or women and their sons?
The relevant portions of the transcript from NBC Nightly News on February 9 are below.
NBC Nightly News
February 9, 2015
7:08 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Marriage Battle]
HOLT: Tonight, same-sex marriage is officially legal in the state of Alabama, the 37th state to allow it. Amid cheers and celebrations there today, there were also protests and a new fight brewing as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court leads a resistance. We get our report tonight from our justice correspondent Pete Williams.
PETE WILLIAMS: Gay marriage came today to the heart of the Deep South.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON ADMINISTERING GAY MARRIAGE: You two beautiful souls are saying just that –
WILLIAMS: Same-sex couples began getting licenses in Alabama after a federal judge two weeks ago struck down a state ban on gay marriage there. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said today the Supreme Court “should have granted Alabama's request to put that ruling on hold” out of respect for the state until the court rules on gay marriage nationwide in a few months. The failure to grant Alabama's request, Thomas said, “may well be seen as a signal the court's intended resolution of that question” of gay marriage nationwide. Roughly two-thirds of Alabama counties today refused to grant the marriage licenses.
UNIDENTIFIED COUNTY CLERK: We’re not handing out same-sex marriages.
WILLIAMS: After Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, urged local officials to ignore the federal court ruling. In 2003, he defied a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the State Supreme Court building. He was removed from office but re-elected three years ago. The Supreme Court takes up the marriage issue in April with a decision by June. It seems unlikely the justices would allow same-sex marriages to go ahead in Alabama now if they're just going to stop them a few months from now.