Henry Penick is black and Alison Penick is white. And Alabama is the verylast state with a clause in its constitution that forbids the marriage ofwhite and black.
The Penicks hope that changes Nov. 7. A ballot proposal would remove section102 of the Alabama Constitution. The passage, written in 1901, bars theLegislature from enacting any law "to authorize or legalize any marriagebetween 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 theclause is unenforceable. But some people in Alabama find section 102 ashameful relic in a state that is moving forward.
"It needs to be repealed. When it's the law, that means it'sstate-sanctioned," said state Rep. Alvin Holmes, a black Democrat who wrotethe ballot measure.
Alabama is 75 percent white and 25 percent black. Polls suggest the measurewill pass, but with substantial opposition.
Last month, a Mobile Register poll found 64 percent in favor and 19 percentopposed. The rest were undecided or not planning to vote. Capital SurveyResearch found 53 percent in favor and 30 percent opposed.
Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor backs the repeal, lambasting themarriage 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 marriageis 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, whereonce their color difference could have gotten them arrested, even killed, hesaid.
Still, said Auburn University historian Wayne Flynt, the unenforceable banon interracial marriage has lingered on the books because "there is a lotof racism left over in this state."
And the Penicks do worry about those who tell pollsters they oppose theamendment.
"If 30 percent of the people still want to ban interracial marriage, youhave to wonder, what else do they want?" said Alison Penick, 37.
Yet interracial marriages are on the rise in Alabama. Ten years ago, therewere 605 such marriages, 1.4 percent of the total that year. By 1998, thelatest year available, they numbered 1,546, or 3.3 percent.
The sole vocal defenders of the status quo come from the 200 Alabama membersof the Southern Party, which reveres the Old Confederacy and wants the Southto secede again. Nationwide membership is put at 3,000.
Pat Reaves, a 64-year-old retired airline pilot in Munford and Alabama'sSouthern Party chairman, said repeal is "unnecessary and ridiculous."
"Anyone can marry anyone," Reaves said. "This amendment is being pushedto make Alabama look like a racist state." He accused the measure's backersof seeking only to "agitate folks" and boost black turnout for thepresidential contest.
The Penicks said they discovered only one big cultural difference betweenthem. Both are Baptists, but Henry Penick, after a lifetime of attendinglively churches, had to adjust to his wife's more restrained congregation. "The way they sing 'Amazing Grace' is not the way we sing 'AmazingGrace,'" he said.