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Supporters defend Roy Moore: “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter”

How the Alabama GOP reacted to sexual misconduct allegations against the Senate candidate.

Alabama GOP Senate Candidate Roy Moore Holds Election Night Gathering In Special Election For Session's Seat Scott Olson/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Republican senators have called for Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore to “step aside” amid accusations that he pursued a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32 — if, many qualified, those allegations are true.

But some prominent leaders in Moore’s home state of Alabama, where the former judge is very popular with the evangelical Christian base, have attempted to defend him — or been noticeably silent on the Washington Post’s bombshell story.

Moore supporters who did speak out dismissed the allegations as a Democratic plot or smear campaign, and questioned the timing of the report weeks ahead of the special election. Others downplayed the severity of the allegations, with Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler calling them “much ado about very little.” Zeigler also attempted to rely on the Bible to muster a justification for Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct.

Leigh Corfman, now 53, told the Post that Moore pursued her as a 14-year-old when he was working as a district attorney; she said he kissed her on one occasion and touched her over her bra and underwear on another. Three other women say Moore, in his early 30s, flirted with and tried to ask them out as teenagers, though they were apparently over 16 at the time, the legal age of consent in Alabama. Moore himself has denied the allegations a “completely false and desperate attack.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said in a statement, "If that's true, I don't believe there'd be any place for him in the United States Senate." And other high-profile Alabama politicians also distanced themselves from Moore, though almost all included the “if the allegations are true” caveat.

But others tried a different tack.

The fake news defense

  • Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, did not comment on whether Moore should withdraw from the race, but said Alabama voters should see the allegations as “just another piece of information that will allow them to make their decision.” He also questioned the timing of the story, asking why the accusations emerged now, ahead of the special Senate election.

“In all the campaigns Moore has ever run before — and he has run a lot of them, probably a dozen campaigns,” he told the Huffington Post, “it’s very, very odd to me this information has just been introduced.” It echoed a line of defense Moore also took in his denial to the Post.

  • Mobile County GOP Chair John Skipper called it a Democratic “ploy.”
  • An Alabama state representative blamed the accusers.

The “much ado about very little” defense

  • Zeigler, a Moore supporter, called the allegations “much ado about very little.”

Alabama’s age of consent is 16, and three of the women were over 16 when Moore pursued them. However, in Alabama it is considered sexual abuse in the second degree if an adult 19 years old or older has sexual contact with a child between the ages of 12 and 16 — and Corfman alleged she was 14 when her encounters with the 32-year-old Moore occurred.

But Zeigler’s defense got even weirder in an interview with the Washington Examiner. In the interview, he claimed that the story wasn’t a big deal because Moore never had sexual intercourse with the accusers, because it happened 40 years ago, and, most bizarrely, because Moore had ended up marrying a much younger woman. (Moore, at age 38, married his wife, Kayla, who was 24 at the time, the Post reported.) Then he attempted to justify it all with a perplexing interpretation of religion:

“He’s clean as a hound’s tooth,” Ziegler claimed, before relying on Scripture to defend Moore.

“Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Ziegler said choosing his words carefully before invoking Christ. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Ziegler concluded. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

  • Marion County GOP Chair David Hall also didn’t seem to think the allegations against Moore were relevant. “She’s not saying that anything happened other than they kissed,” he told the Toronto Star.

Others have gone silent

While Moore has his staunch defenders, many reporters who cover both Congress and the Alabama statehouse noted that many politicians curiously seemed to be unavailable Thursday afternoon.

Moore continues to deny the women’s stories. He has also seized on the smear-campaign narrative, sending out a fundraising email in response the allegations. Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent Doug Jones in the special election race — who had been trailing by double digits in deep-red Alabama — said that Moore “needs to answer these serious allegations."

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