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Senators vote nearly unanimously to do away with marriage licenses

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

Marriage licenses and state-mandated marriage ceremonies may soon be a thing of the past if the Alabama Senate has anything to say about.

The Alabama Senate voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would abolish the requirement for marriage licenses and allow two people to enter into a marriage by signing an affidavit instead of through a ceremony.

The move comes after years of back and forth among some probate judges who have refused to issue licenses at all following the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling recognizing same-sex couples’ right to marry. The judges argued that they didn’t want to issue licenses to gay couples, so they just wouldn’t issue them at all.

“I believe that is increasing the amount of sanctity and protection of the dictates of religious authority,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range. Albritton has proposed the bill for four years in a row but it never made it onto the Governor’s desk.

Current law requires that probate judges issue marriage licenses and an individual authorized to perform a marriage solemnize the marriage through a formal ceremony within 30 days of the license being issued. Often, probate judges performed the solemnization ceremonies for individuals who didn’t have an ordained minister.

Albritton says the state shouldn’t be in the ceremony business and his bill would take out any role the state has in those ceremonies, which he believes are purely religious. Instead of issuing licenses and requiring ceremonies, individuals will now only have to submit a signed contract in the form of an affidavit along with some documentation.

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“What this bill does is that it truly separates the church and the state,” Albritton said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “The state has an obligation to deal with marriage when it deals with the matter of contract law. The church and individuals have the obligation of marriage when it comes to the sanctity and the solemnity and the permanence of marriage. Those things are separate here.”

The bill passed by a vote of 19 to 1. Several senators were not in the chamber at the time of the vote, and Sen. Phil Williams was the lone no vote. Williams said he was afraid the changes could dilute the meaning of marriage.

Albritton said the move would not affect traditional religious marriage ceremonies held outside of a state probate office.

“A ceremony should be held, I agree, and those ceremonies under this bill would continue to be held, and it would be held in accordance to the dictates of the individual’s religious convictions,” Albritton said.


Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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