As of Aug. 29, Alabama couples seeking to get married will no longer have to hunt up a preacher and get a marriage license.
Internet access, a printer and a notary will do.
That’s the take-home message from the one-page notice Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin posted in her office this week. Titled “NOTICE OF CHANGE IN MARRIAGE LICENSE LAW,” the sign reminds people that Alabama will stop issuing marriage licenses later this month.
Martin’s not sure her constituents are aware of that.
“We need to get the word out,” the judge said.
State lawmakers earlier this year voted to do away with marriage licenses, long the state’s method for making marriages official, and replacing them with a form that both parties in the marriage can fill out, get notarized and give to the probate judge.
It may sound like an obscure, dominoes-on-Sunday corner of state law, but the change has its roots in one of the decade’s biggest controversies.
When the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 declared that same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states, the decision overturned state law on the matter. And it didn’t sit well with some of the state’s probate judges, the county-level officials charged with issuing marriage licenses. In some counties — including Calhoun County’s neighbor, Cleburne — probate judges stopped issuing licenses to any couples, gay or straight, to avoid playing a role in same-sex unions.
The new law was supposed to get around that. But it also may add some new wrinkles to the process of getting hitched.
Martin said there will be an official state form that couples must fill out in order to verify that they’re married. Both parties sign it, with the marriage becoming official on the date of the last signature. A notary has to witness each signature, Martin said. And it has to be sent to the probate office within 30 days of the last signature to become official.
That seems to mean that a couple could get hitched at an office supply store, or anywhere with a printer and a notary. A worker at one local shop, the UPS Store in Golden Springs, confirmed that the store does have notaries on hand. Employees in the Calhoun County Probate Office say they’ve issued 1,389 notary licenses in the past four years.
Martin said the Alabama Department of Public Health has yet to release the official marriage form.
“We’re hoping to get it sometime next week,” Martin said.
There’s no need for a minister to sign the new form to make it official — but Martin is advising local clergy members to consider becoming notaries, so they can oversee the paperwork after performing a wedding ceremony.
Rev. C. O. Grinstead, longtime pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Oxford, told The Star on Thursday he had no idea the license requirement was about to change.
“You’re challenging my mind on this,” he said. “I want to go back to scripture and ask, what does God think about these things?”
Grinstead said he definitely wouldn’t officiate at a same-sex union, because he didn’t believe that union would be blessed by God. Asked about the prospect of a bride and groom getting married at a copy shop, he said he didn’t believe a marriage without a ceremony would last.
“If all I do is sign a document, I’m not pledging a vow,” he said.
Jacksonville resident Mandi Long performed Calhoun County’s first same-sex wedding in 2015. Ordained through an online church, Long held her first weddings in the parking lot of Martin’s office on the day same-sex unions became legal. She said she still officiates at weddings occasionally.
Interviewed Thursday, Long said she had no idea the process of getting married was about to change.
“Why is this a thing?” she said. “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, even in Alabama, and that says a lot.”
Within minutes of The Star’s call, Long began looking up the process for becoming a notary. (The filing fee is $34, according to the Probate Office website. It costs about $80 to buy the $25,000 insurance policy required by state law, according to websites run by groups that offer notary training.)
“Are we going to go back to the same old fight, where now there are notaries who don’t want to do this?” Long asked. “Am I going to have to buy insurance and become a notary because lawmakers got their knickers in a twist?”
Maybe not. According to the Alabama Secretary of State’s official handbook for notaries, the “public trusts that the notary will be impartial and not refuse anyone based on nationality, sexual orientation, race, religion, or politics.”
“Our decision isn’t based on the content of the document,” said Robert McCormick, a Gadsden notary. “If they’re not being honest, or if they’re not aware of the contents of the document, we can refuse.”
One thing won’t change in the new law. Filing marriage paperwork will still cost $104, the same price as a marriage license, Martin said.