One Alabama lawmaker proposes just getting the courts out of the marriage business

For everyone who’s been feeling that government has no place in the whole “marriage” thing to begin with: An Alabama state senator agrees with you. You may recall Alabama’s recent (brief) entry into the 21st century earlier this year when Alabama (briefly) legalized same-sex marriage before un-legalizing it, during which state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered his probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

With that event in mind, Republican Sen. Greg Albritton has proposed Senate Bill 377 to “bring order out of chaos,” he says. Under the proposed law, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, the probate’s office would no longer issue marriage licenses — in fact, couples wouldn’t need licenses at all to get married. Civil recognition would come in the form of a contract witnessed by two adults and recorded by the probate’s office and the Office of Vital Statistics as a marriage.

“The sanctity of marriage cannot be sanctified by the government of men,” Albritton says.

Marriage sanctity notwithstanding, the new, non-bigoted-probate-judge-centric procedure would be open to good Christians and heathens alike, and when same-sex marriage is ultimately de-un-legalized, the procedure will remain exactly the same.

A similar (on the surface) bill passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives in March, but as a specifically targeted shot at same-sex marriage, the state ban on which was overturned last year. HB 1125, currently before the state senate, puts marriage entirely in the hands of the clergy, requiring court clerks to issue certificates of marriage signed by “a preacher, minister, priest, rabbi, or ecclesiastical dignitary of a recognized assembly.” (Heathen types can file an affidavit of common law marriage.)

“[Same-sex couples and atheists] don’t have a spiritual basis for a marriage and don’t want to have a clergy member or a priest or someone involved in the spiritual aspect, then they can file an affidavit of common-law marriage,” says bill sponsor state Rep. Todd Russ. (He also told new station KFOR, “You know, in the early days, the king actually went before the priest to ask for marriage. Somehow along the way we’ve changed it to where we have to ask the government before we go to the priest to be married, and now we have problems.”)

In contrast, the proposed Alabama law wouldn’t require the involvement of clergy at all. Marriage contracts would just need to be witnessed by two adults, be they clergy or laity or attorneys or itinerant circus clowns 18 or older. Actual fancy-pants solemnizations (or lack thereof) would be at the couple’s discretion.

To be clear: The new law still wouldn’t address some of the most pressing issues surrounding marriage equality in states that don’t honor it — adoption, inheritance, and hospital visitation and medical decisions, for instance, among many others. Alabama courts have yet to nullify the same-sex marriages that were performed during Alabama’s brief period of modernity, so in theory, those couples remain married, although that theory hasn’t been tested yet. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to make a ruling on state bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee in late June, which may or may not have an impact on Alabama’s ban, depending largely on the specific wording of the ruling and whether or not Roy Moore continues to be a butthole, which is likely. So there’s that. Further updates as events warrant.


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