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A rare defeat for the religious right in Alabama

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R)
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R)Associated Press

Dissent on culture-war issues is rarely tolerated within the Republican Party. A few months ago, for example, the chair of the Illinois Republican Party was forced to step down for having the audacity to say gay Americans should be able to get married.

In Alabama, where dissent among Republicans on social conservatism is even less common, a similar fight has brewed in recent weeks and was resolved over the weekend. The outcome was not altogether expected.

At the heart of the controversy is Alabama College Republicans Chairwoman Stephanie Petelos, who praised the Supreme Court's ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act on Facebook. Soon after, she told a local news outlet she supports marriage equality because "we're governed by the constitution and not the Bible."

The comments were not well received within the Alabama GOP. State Republican officials quickly began the process of writing new bylaws that would require all steering committee members to support the party's positions as outlined in the national platform. Those who publicly disagree would be removed from their leadership posts.

On Saturday, in a surprising turn of events, efforts to punish Petelos fell short.

Alabama Republicans voted Saturday to reject an amendment aimed at punishing the head of the state's college Republicans for publicly defending same-sex marriage — a rare, if minor, victory for gay rights supporters in the Bible Belt, and a sign of hope for conservatives who want to see their party embrace generational shifts on key social issues.

[T]he debate over the amendment Saturday was not without drama. According to a report in, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore spoke out fervently against same-sex marriage during the meeting.

Moore is perhaps best known as the Ten Commandments judge -- a fierce opponent of church-state separation who was forced from the state Supreme Court for ignoring federal court rulings he didn't like.

So, how did the measure intended to punish Petelos fail?

...Petelos said the media attention was "a pretty big factor" in defeating the amendment, and noted the strong support she received from young Republicans across the country via Facebook and Twitter as she faced down Alabama's entrenched network of older conservative Christians.

Ultimately, Petelos said, the party dodged a bullet: "If they had passed this resolution and put restraints on people's ability to speak their opinions, then the press would have been a lot harsher next week than it was last week."

In Alabama Republican politics, the religious right movement doesn't lose often. If for no other reason, it made the weekend's developments pretty fascinating.