BESSEMER, Ala. (Christian Examiner) – The Honorable Edward B. Vines is a district judge in Jefferson County, Alabama, who hears domestic relations cases. He is a practicing Christian and an active member of Shades Crest Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Hoover, Alabama.
In an interview with Christian Examiner, Vines addressed a number of issues related to the controversy arising from competing rulings about same-sex marriage in Alabama, saying the suggestion that Christian judges should resign if faced with conscience objections is alarming for how such action would imperil representative government.
Vines said all branches of government at all levels of authority should reflect the citizens it purports to represent—in all manner of demographic diversity including race, ethnicity, religion and ideology.
If groups excluded themselves from public offices, the end result would be an elite class who might resort to tyranny rather than represent the will of the people, he said.
Vines said from a practical standpoint, U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade's overturning of Alabama's marriage protection amendment to the state Constitution will not have an immediate impact on his duties "because district and circuit judges are not compelled to do weddings."
However, he added it will "ultimately affect any judge who hears divorce cases in Alabama," and he lamented the "confusion" that has been created "because of competing rulings between federal court systems and state court systems."
"I agree with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thomas' writing on the matter," Vines explained. "Several days ago he referred to the standard practice of waiting on the Supreme Court to rule on matters when there's a conflict between jurisdictions."
But that is not the case in Alabama because U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade refused to stay her ruling beyond a 14-day period that ended Feb. 9. So, essentially she precluded the Supreme Court from deciding the manner when it takes up the issue in several weeks.
"Her decision creates some real practical problems," Vines said. "Because same-sex marriages are being performed, now the Supreme Court will be under the added pressure of having to decide whether it wants to put the toothpaste back in the tube or not."
Vines has a unique vantage point for commenting on the predicament Christian justices face with the imposition of Granade's ruling on state judges, because for him it is not a theoretical discussion.
He said he did not know Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and was not aware of Moore's recent comments that Christian judges "faced with a decision of violating his conscience or upholding the law, would need to resign and protest against it as a citizen if he could not discharge the duties of his office required by law in good conscience."
But he said he believes "in the biblical model of marriage" and "no one but God has a right to define marriage" and because of that he initially was conflicted about whether he should remain a judge with the reality of gay marriage becoming legal in the state.
"The whole issue is very distressing," Vines shared, "and when this first came out, I asked myself should I just go ahead and resign. I think I am like most observers of the U.S. Supreme Court who think they're just going to go ahead and approve gay marriage as the law of the land.
"But," he offered, "the practical consideration is that if everyone who opposed the issue resigned, then by definition anyone who applied to replace the departing officials would be for the issue, if that makes sense?"
Essentially, such an action would remove all Christian influence on this important branch of government, he said.
But he also emphasized this applies to others with conscience objections, whether for or against same-sex marriage or any other issue involving deeply held convictions.
And he said the mass exodus of any group would be alarming for the kind of representative government which Americans cherish.
"So, by resigning on principle you would be creating an unintended consequence," he explained.
He also commented on the constitutional conflicts in the present situation.
"The Tenth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights and it's one of the most plainly stated amendments that there is. It basically says that all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government by the states are reserved for the states or the people. People just pretend that's not there anymore," he said. "It's very distressing because it was put there for a reason, and it was one of the things that caused the Constitution to be ratified."
"We're talking about people who had just cast off the tyranny of King George" he said in reference to the American Revolution. "So it was a big deal that the Constitution included assurances about the sovereignty of the states and that we would not go back to the same situation we had just escaped."
Now, the U.S. Supreme Court, an agent of the federal government, will be the final authority on who prevails in the conflict between states' sovereignty and federal courts' activism on the issue of who defines marriage.