Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Southern Injustice: The Chief Justice of Alabama Calls Homosexuality "An Inherent Evil," and a Mississippi Judge Says Gay People Should Be Institutionalized. Can Equal Justice Be Found South of the Mason-Dixon Line? (Court)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Southern Injustice: The Chief Justice of Alabama Calls Homosexuality "An Inherent Evil," and a Mississippi Judge Says Gay People Should Be Institutionalized. Can Equal Justice Be Found South of the Mason-Dixon Line? (Court)

Article excerpt

Coming from the state's top jurist, the words of Alabama supreme court chief justice Roy Moore were extraordinary even for the Bible Belt. Adding his concurring opinion to the court's decision in a gay parent's custody case. in February, Moore stated that homosexuality is "an inherent evil, an act so heinous that it defies one's ability to describe it."

The "homosexual conduct of a parent," Moore asserted, is sufficient justification for denying him or her custody of a child; simply exposing children to such behavior "has a destructive and seriously detrimental effect." Homosexuality is "abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature," Moore stated, and government has the power "to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution."

The comments by Moore, who first gained notoriety as a circuit judge who insisted on hanging a plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, touched off a furor and demands for his resignation. But more broadly, his diatribe has helped raise this question: Can gay people find justice in the South?

While judicial prejudice appears everywhere, an overwhelming majority of cases infected with antigay bias come from Southern states, says Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"One of the very first questions we ask during an intake is where the person is calling from," Kendell says. "And when they say a Southern state, we know automatically that advocating on their behalf is going to be more difficult--solely because we will have a fair possibility of getting a judge who will be incapable of rendering an objective, open-minded ruling."

Just a few weeks after Moore issued his opinion, a Mississippi judge stole the spotlight from him. George County court judge Connie Glenn Wilkerson, in a letter to the local newspaper, wrote that he was sorry California had approved a law granting same-sex partners the right to sue for wrongful death. "In my opinion, gays and lesbians should be put in some type of a mental institution instead of having a law like this passed for them," he wrote.

New York City-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed ethics complaints against both Moore and Wilkerson. In its Alabama complaint, the group noted that Moore based his opinion on his own interpretation of the Bible and asserted, "Impartiality ... requires that a judge set aside personal biases and beliefs, religious or otherwise." Says Hector Vargas, director of Lambda's Southern regional office: "Rather than displaying a fair and open mind ... the judge blindly condemns gay people and explicitly refuses to rule based on the actual evidence in a case."

Lambda's complaint against Wilkerson was fried jointly with gay rights advocacy group Equality Mississippi. "How can anybody say [gays] should all be put in mental institutions and yet be able to judge them fairly?" Lambda attorney Greg Nevins asks. "That does not make sense." Even though Wilkerson's comments were made outside his judicial activities, Nevins says they call "into serious question" whether the judge could decide cases impartially. Vargas adds that Lambda is "extremely concerned about the rash of antigay statements from judges," saying, "These kinds of statements make gays and lesbians feel that the justice system is closed off to them."

One of the most egregious examples of judicial prejudice, Kendell says, occurred in Pensacola, Fla. …

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