License to wed no longer needed?

Published 4:34 pm Saturday, February 3, 2018

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

An Alabama bill ending the process of marriage licenses and ceremonies is making its way through the Alabama House of Representatives after successfully passing through the Alabama Senate on Jan. 16, followed by the House Judiciary Committee shortly thereafter.

The Senate voted 19-1 approving the measure and the Judiciary Committee voted 9-5.

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The legislation, proposed by Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, is the state’s response to probate judges who refuse to conform to the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses after the case of Obergefell v. Hodges.

The supreme court case required states to issue licenses to people of the same sex looking to marry.

“No one particularly likes changing our law, I’ll tell you that,” Albritton said in an interview with Fox News. “However, under the circumstances, it was the best thing we can do.”

Despite the ruling from over two years ago, seven probate judges in Alabama were still denying marriage licenses as late as June 2017, according to Ballotpedia.

The current law states that judges “may” issue certification, instead of “must.” The new bill would guarantee same-sex marriage rights in all 67 counties by requiring probate judges to document a marriage regardless of sexual orientation, rather than previously being allowed to confirm or deny them.

The proposed bill would also rid the requirement of a ceremony to confirm the marriage.

In doing so, it takes away the religious aspects that surround marriage, making it less open to interpretation for judges looking to bend the law. It turns marriage into a civil matter, rather than a religious one.

While some of the more-conservative judges have shown restraint, judges from the other 60 counties continue to conform to the law. Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard sees how the new bill could help with enforcement.

“I can see where making a marriage a contract would help with same-sex marriages. It makes it the same as a business contract.” Ballard said. “My opinion on same-sex marriage does not matter. Judges adhere to the law. If the bill passes, we will adhere to that law as well.”

The financial aspect of the new bill has been considered as well.

In Alabama, marriage licenses can vary in price, but average $43.35. Supporters of the bill have claimed that the new process would not cost residents more.

Judge Ballard, however, has reservations about this claim.

“The cost should be the same, but I have never seen a new law where it cost less than before,” Ballard said.

While the bill would guarantee same-sex marriages for interested Alabama couples, it would also guarantee that same-sex couples from another state would be recognized in Alabama. Despite this guarantee, Dallas County is likely to be unaffected. Ballard claims that a total of zero same-sex marriage proposals have been brought to him since 2015, when Obergefell v. Hodges concluded.