Gay rights supporters petition Bowden to sell licenses

Published 12:02 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

From 2,000 miles away, Andalusia native and Air Force veteran Clif Stokes started a petition in response to Probate Judge Ben Bowden’s decision on Friday to stop issuing marriage licenses.

He did so at the suggestion of Andalusia’s Emily Brooks Crowson.

Stokes said it’s important to him that others not go through the trials and bullying he went through as a child due to his sexuality.

Stokes said knew from the second grade, he was different.

“I was raised and spent my first 18 years in Andalusia,” he said. “I remember as early as second grade at Church Street Elementary School knowing that I was different – that I like boys.”

The hometown native left Andalusia a month after high school graduation in 2002 when he joined the U.S. Air Force.

“I served 12 years active duty and just recently separated due to medical issues (diagnosed as type 1 diabetic),” he said. “I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

He’s been stationed across the country from Texas to Las Vegas to Washington, D.C., and even in South Korea.

It was in Washington, D.C., that he met the man who’s now his husband, Raben Talvo, an officer in the U.S. Navy.

Stokes said that since he’s a part of a military family and has no choice where he is stationed, Andalusia will always be his hometown. Therefore, how the issue of same-sex marriage is handled here is important to him.

“I know that there are others like me there now, who have to hear the hatred and bigotry spew forth from the mouths of the parents, preachers, and local officials,” he said. “I do not believe that any child living there now should have to hear the homophobia that I heard growing up. While I can never stop it from being taught by the parents within their homes, I can take a stand against elected public officials.”

As an adolescent, Stokes said he was bullied, hated and assaulted.

“The biggest challenge I faced growing up was feeling inadequate,” he said. “I had to hide my true self, agree with bigotry and homophobia, and pretend to be a stranger to my heart. From a religious point of view, I was assured that homosexuals will go to hell. From a familial view, I simply didn’t want to disappoint any of my family – something that sadly did not come to fruition.”

Stokes said now, his father is the only family member who speaks to him.

“While he doesn’t agree with my sexuality, he respects me enough to support me and wants nothing but happiness for me,” Stokes said. “That is the mutual respect we share as people – father and son. We don’t judge each other. It’s a lesson that many others should learn.”

Stokes said he often prayed for God to “fix him,” and contemplated suicide many times since God “wasn’t answering.”

“It was only after leaving that ‘loving small town’ that I realized I wasn’t being fixed because I am not broken,” he said. “It’s extremely ironic to me that so many in Andalusia are religious, but a lot of those same people are filled with hatred toward anyone different from them. I don’t believe in forcing a preacher to marry me, but the government cannot deny me or straight people as it is now of that fundamental right granted by the 14th amendment.”

Stokes said that hatred spewed from the mouth at home or in the pews on Sunday will be heard, unknowingly, by a gay or lesbian child.

“Those words are powerful and can terminate a child’s hope and light so badly that they decide to end their life,” he said. “So I would say to those who have hate in their hearts be aware that your hatred is powerful and has damaging effects on people you may not even know. But know this also, our love for those you hate will continue to prove stronger.”

Stokes said his goal in establishing a petition is straightforward.

“I want Ben Bowden removed from office or immediate issuance of marriage licenses to all – gay and straight couples,” he said. “And let’s be honest, Andalusia courthouse won’t have a line of gay people applying. I would like Ben Bowden to uphold his oath to office and the Constitution of the United States, both of which he swore to do. He is in violation of both until then. He is only a functionary of the state when it concerns marriage and therefore held accountable to federal law over state law. He must commit to his oath, regardless of personal points of view.”

Crowson’s view for the petition is similar.

“A lot of people who have left here, have left with hate in their hearts,” she said. “I came home to confront the hate in mine. Home is supposed to be a place where you are comfortable being yourself, a place to feel loved, be supported, and allowed to flourish. There are gay people everywhere, in every culture, and more than just the human species.”

Crowson said, why should someone be made to feel under appreciated in his or her hometown.

“These people live here, pay taxes here and wouldn’t be here if they didn’t like that sense of community,” she said. “I love living in this town. I feel very strongly about this issue because love is not an easy thing. Why should one group of people be allowed to make it any harder for another? Yes, I have close friends, and even family who are homosexual. Yes, they grew up in the same circumstances as me.

“Did they choose it? No, in fact some of them have tried so hard to be someone that they aren’t that it caused them hours and hours of pain and confusion and self loathing,” she said. “I never want another child to feel they cannot be who they are in this town.”

Crowson said the petition is nothing personal toward the judge.

“I like Ben Bowden,” she said. “I think he is a nice person. Judge Bowden is not a preacher. He’s a judge. If his job goes against his morals, perhaps it isn’t the job for him anymore.”

Late Friday, Bowden asked the public for patience as he sorts through the issue. Earlier this year, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Until that ruling changes, he said, he has been given conflicting orders.

The petition can be viewed at