A bill before Alabama lawmakers this year would take the state’s probate judges out of the marriage license business.
Some probate judges in the state say they have a religious objection to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Because state law says they “may” issue marriage licenses (as opposed to the more forceful “shall”), many judges decided to cease issuing to couples, straight or gay.
A bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, takes the power of issuing or not issuing marriage licenses away from probate judges. Instead, it makes the process of filing a matrimonial union in Alabama a do-it-yourself affair. The betrothed — gay or straight — would fill out “affidavits, forms and data” and turn them into the probate judge who would then register the marriage with the state.
“It takes discretion away from local judges, so when forms are provided it establishes marriage,” Albritton said of his bill. “It takes away from the judge the ‘yes or no’ on who can get married.”
(For the record — DIY marriage paperwork or not — to have the union processed and sent to the Office of Vital Statistics, the couple still pays a recording fee, which is typically north of $43.)
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were constitutional in a case known as Obergefell v. Hodges. Albritton’s bill looks like an acknowledgement that the past three years have done little to soften the stances of probate judges who stopped issuing marriage licenses because they were morally opposed to being involved in gay marriages.
In 1970, three years after the Supreme Court prevented states from banning interracial marriages, a Calhoun County probate judge refused to issue a marriage license to a black woman and white man. Three years weren’t enough to convince state and local officials in Alabama of the scope of the high court’s ruling and what it said about big cultural shifts in the nation.