By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, April 15 House Bill 56 passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Subcommittee following a public hearing with a favorable report. The subcommittee is chaired by Senator Jim McClendon (R from Springville).
HB56 is sponsored by State Representative Jim Hill (R from Odenville). Rep. Hill said that the bill which passed the house in essence gives certain persons who are authorized to perform marriages in Alabama the right to decline on a cases by case basis. “This gives the person who performs the ceremony the right to say yes or no.”
Sen. Cam Ward (R from Alabaster) asked, “Does the federal constitution currently guarantee a minister the right to perform a marriage or not to perform a marriage?” Are they protected by the First Amendment?
Rep. Hill said, “I would hope so.”
Sen. Ward asked, “In Alabama we do have an Alabama Religious Freedom amendment already on the books. “If I am a minister do I have a right to say it is against my religion to perform this marriage?
Rep. Hill said, “My answer is yes.”
Sen. Ward said, “This looks like a protection we already have.” Priests are not required to perform ceremonies they don’t want to perform. “What is the problem that we are seeking to fix that is not already on the books?”
Rep. Hill said, I want to clarify the situation.
Sen. Linda Coleman (D from Birmingham) said, “I am wondering why the need for this bill?” The ministers have the right to refuse but the judges have taken an oath to follow the law.
Rep. Hill said I was a judge and I never ducked cases. Performing a marriage is a power we have but it is not a primary duty or responsibility of being a judge. I also the power to recuse myself from a case if there was some reason I could not judge the case impartially. In fact a judge has an obligation to recuse himself if it could even appear that he might be biased in a case. This bill does not take from anyone the right to be married.
The Executive director of the ACLU of Alabama Susan Watson said, “Religion should not be used to discriminate.” “HB56 has legal consequences.” It could lead to frivolous lawsuits. Bentley has already asked to raise taxes. “Do we want to spend money fighting lawsuits?” “We should not allow public officials to pick and choose.”
Watson said that HB56, “Sends a dangerous message to the rest of the country that Alabama is not open for business for everyone.”
Jessie Prockup the pastor of New Beginnings Community Church in Montgomery read a letter opposing HB56 signed by 17 pastors from a variety of clerics.
Laura Embry a clinical psychologist from Birmingham said, “We want economic development in Alabama. This bill will put a black mark on Alabama.” Arkansas and Indiana have both suffered after passing religious freedom bills. The majority of Americans are opposed to religious freedom bills.
The director of legislative affairs for Alabama Reproductive Rights Mia Raven said, I am an ordained wedding official and I have never been forced to marry anyone. Probate judges are paid with public money and can not pick and choose who they serve. “Don’t make this state a punch line on the Daily Show.”
Alfred Norris who identified himself as a Montgomery attorney said a district court judge in Mobile (Ms. Callie Granade) has ruled Alabama’s marriage law was unconstitutional. Judge Roy Moore has brought us into legal chaos. Norris claimed that HB56 violated the 14th amendment. “This will go to the Supreme Court.”
Jessica Dent said, “I am an Alabamian all my life, I am an American all my life and I am a lesbian, I am a public servant by career and I have worked in communities across Alabama and have witnessed the many things that still divide us and keep us from thriving; race, religion, poverty – do we really need to add another division- do we really need another discriminatory law?”
Sen. Tom Whatley (R from Lee County) motioned to give HB56 a favorable report.
The motion was seconded by Sen. Paul Bussman (R from Cullman).
Sen. Coleman said that she want to refer the bill to the Judiciary Committee and voted “NO.”
Senators Stutts and Ward voted for favorable report as did Chairman McClendon.
HB56 now goes to the full Health Committee chaired by Sen. Gerald Dial (R from Lineville).
Rep. Hill told the Alabama Political Reporter that he was not sure when the Health Committee would bring the matter up.
Homosexual marriage activists told the Alabama Political Reporter that they will ask for another public hearing at the full committee.