Alabama is considering a law that would abolish marriage licenses in the state.
The proposed bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Greg Albritton, amends Alabama law to remove any requirement that couples obtain marriage licenses or have marriage ceremonies.
Albritton said the law would protect the religious liberty of probate judges and clergy who have moral objections to signing same-sex marriage licenses while also avoiding likely litigation.
“It keeps the state from making the decision of who can and cannot get married,” Albritton said. “It prevents the state from that gatekeeper position.”
Instead, under the proposed bill, couples would file signed affidavits with a probate judge, who would be required to record, but not authorize or condone, marriages. The notarized affidavit would ask each party to declare they were old enough to marry, not currently married, not related and voluntarily desire to marry. The bill also would remove any requirement that a ceremony take place.
Some conservative opponents argue the bill threatens the sanctity of marriage. Two Republican state senators spoke against the bill during the Senate hearing, arguing the state should have a role in authorizing marriage and that removing marriage licenses and ceremony requirements would reduce marriage to a contract between two parties.
“To take it and reduce it to a contractual arrangement like a mortgage or a deed feels a little concerning,” Republican Sen. Phil Williams said during debate.
But Albritton maintained the “state does not make things sacred.”
He said his goal with the bill was simply to resolve a judicial controversy. Eight Alabama counties still refuse to issue marriage licenses since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
“I am not changing marriage. I am not changing the definition of marriage,” Albritton said. “The courts have already decided, both local state courts and federal courts. … I am just changing the procedure.”
The bill cleared the Alabama Senate by a vote of 22-6 earlier this month and is awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
This is the fourth time Albritton has introduced the bill since a federal judge struck down an Alabama law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman in early 2015. Albritton’s bills have always cleared the Senate but failed in the House.
During a special session in September 2015, the bill came up for a vote before the whole House of Representatives. A majority of representatives voted for it, but it failed because it did not get the two-thirds majority required to pass in the special session.
Albritton said he anticipated the bill would pass out of the House Judiciary Committee and hoped it would get a vote before the whole House this session.
Alabama will be the first state with such a law if the bill passes. Oklahoma tried and failed to pass a similar measure in 2015.
But Albritton says this is not a new idea: “I am only going back to the way we were doing things about 100 years ago,” he said, noting that until Alabama initiated marriage licenses in the early 20th century, marriages were conducted and then recorded in the probate office, exactly as his bill would require.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)