By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, May 13, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee voted to give a favorable report to HB 56, which protects judges from being forced to participate in any marriage ceremony which violates their conscious. HB56 is sponsored by State Representative Jim Hill (R-Odenville). Hill is a longtime St. Clair County judge.
The pro-traditional marriage group, Sanctity of Marriage Alabama, said in a statement: “In light of the Supreme Court ruling expected in June and the recent events in Alabama, organizers believe that there is no better time or place for believers to be a united voice in support of marriage and affirm God’s Word as preeminent.”
Spokesman Tom Ford said, “We want to encourage Alabama and the nation to stand for the God-ordained institution of marriage and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church must lead the way in repentance and obedience to God’s Word.”
The group stated, “Regardless of whether the Supreme Court makes a right or wrong decision in June, real love for Christ and our neighbor compels Christians to stand on God’s Word for the natural, biblical, traditional and moral definition of marriage between one man and one woman.”
The pro-homosexual agenda group, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) oppose HB56.
HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said, “HB 56 is shameful, vicious, and would directly write discrimination into Alabama state law. Alabama’s legislature has a clear choice: pull the state backwards by advancing disgraceful anti-LGBT legislation, or move Alabama forward by supporting common sense legislation that would bring greater equality to millions of Alabamians.”
HB56 would allow probate judges and public officials to refuse to solemnize marriages on religious grounds.
The Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing on HB56 was a week earlier on Wednesday, May 6.
Rep. Jim Hill said that who can perform wedding ceremonies is limited to judges and ministers. The law does not compel officials to perform this ceremony. This would give judges the opportunity to refuse to do so.
Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) asked, “A person does not have that right already?”
Rep. Hill said that ministers do. This gives the performer the right to say no. You go to the probate judge to get your license. You can request that they marry you and they may do so.
Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) said, “Where the law is grey you have the risk of civil liability. I am an attorney. I am also an ordained minister. Where the law is grey civil liability can arise. As a lawyer I often have cases where I have to tell the client, ‘You and I believe you are innocent but you are going to have to pay your way out of it.'”
Sen. Hill said that if the judge refused to perform the ceremony it still may be solemnized by any licensed minister.
Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) asked, “In the 19 years (Judge Hill spent on the bench) did you ever deny them the right to marry them?”
Rep. Hill said, “Yes I did a time or two. Many times I simply did not have the time.”
Hill said that the ruling by Judge Granade without question is what got this started. Had that not come I probably would not introduced this legislation. “I do not believe the individual should be compelled to do what they in good conscience feel that they could not do.”
Rep. Hill said that “Clarity is a good thing to have in the law. I am bringing it (HB56) to clarify that which I believe to be unclear.”
Gabriel Marchio spoke in favor of the bill. He said that House Bill 56 simply clarifies and seeks to protect the religious liberties of the constitution. This bill would protect religious leaders and their churches from potential lawsuits. Mr. Marchio referenced a case from March 2007 when a Methodist Church in New Jersey was successfully sued by a lesbian couple because the Church denied the lesbians use of a Church owned beachside wedding chapel.
Gary Wright said I was born and raised in North Alabama. I served honorably in our military. I have a petition with over 1,700 signatures asking you to reject the discriminatory HB56. Alabama’s marriage amendment has already been ruled unconstitutional. This will create further litigation and the State of Alabama has already waste enough money on this issue.
Wright said that Marriage equality is about to be the law of the land. This bill is rooted in discrimination. Enough taxpayer dollars have been wasted defending discriminatory laws.
Sen. Phil Williams asked Wright why he would want someone who objects to your marriage officiating at his wedding. Wright admitted he wouldn’t. Williams asked why can’t you just drive down the road to a minister who will officiate. Wright said that Alabama has a lot of rural areas and it is not easy for everybody to just drive down the road. Wright said that anyone who refuses to officiate should resign his position as a judge.
Sen. Williams said that this is about looking for people to sue and that is why they oppose HB56.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on whether or not the states have the freedom to define marriage or if the federal courts can redefine the institution.
HB56 has already passed the House and now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.