By Bob Johnson, The Associated Press
Lawyers Henry and Alison Penick were wed at sunset on Waikiki Beach after a courtship begun at a criminal hearing when he asked to borrow a pen. Technically, though, their union violates Alabama’s highest law.
Henry Penick is black and Alison Penick is white. And Alabama is the very last state with a clause in its constitution that forbids interracial marriage.
The Penicks hope that will change Nov. 7 .
A ballot proposal would remove section 102 of the Alabama Constitution. The passage, written , in 1901, bars the Legislature from enacting any law “to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a Negro or descendant of a Negro.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such bans illegal almost 30 years ago, so the clause is unenforceable. But some people in Alabama find section 102 a shameful relic in a state that is moving forward.
“It needs to be repealed. When it’s the law, that means it’s state-sanctioned,” said state Rep. Alvin Holmes, a black Democrat who wrote the ballot measure.
Alabama is 75 percent white and 25 percent black. Polls suggest the measure will pass, but with substantial opposition.
Last month, a Mobile Register poll found 64 percent in favor and 19 percent opposed. The rest were undecided or not planning to vote. Capital Survey Research found 53 percent in favor and 30 percent opposed.
Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor backs the repeal, lambasting the marriage ban as “obsolete, unenforceable and uncivilized.”
The Penicks, who married 18 months ago, said a stranger once hollered “Jungle fever!” at them, but they are surprised at how well their marriage is accepted.
“The person who matters the most to me, my mother, gave her blessing,” said Henry Penick, 49.
Nor do they worry when their law practice takes them to rural Alabama, where once their color, difference could have gotten them arrested, even killed, he said.
Still, said Auburn University historian Wayne Flynt, the unenforceable ban on interracial marriage has lingered on the books because “there is a lot of racism left over in this state.”
And the Penicks do worry about those who tell pollsters they oppose the amendment. “If 30 percent of the people still want to ban interracial marriage, you have to wonder, what else do they want?” said Alison Penick, 37.
The sole vocal defenders of the status quo come from the 200 Alabama members of the Southern Party, which reveres the Old Confederacy and wants the South to secede again. Nationwide membership is put at 3,000.
Pat Reaves, a 64-year-old retired airline pilot in Munford and Alabama’s Southern Party chairman, said repeal is “unnecessary and ridiculous.”
“Anyone can marry anyone,” Reaves said. “This amendment is being pushed to make Alabama look like a racist state.” He accused the measure’s backers of seeking only to “agitate folks” and boost black turnout for the presidential contest.
Text of the Alabama’s Ballot Measure
www.sos.state.al.us/election/2000/general/amendlang.htm (No longera valid link)
Published: September 2000, Montgomery Advertiser