An Alabama state senator who introduced a bill to outlaw marriage licenses said his proposal would solve the predicament of civil servants like Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who went to jail after refusing to sign a marriage license for a homosexual couple, despite the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. His bill would solve this problem by drawing a clear line between sacred solemnization of marriage and the state’s legal recognition of it.
“It’s my belief that the state cannot make any kind of contract sacred,” state Senator Greg Albritton (R., Baldwin County) told PJ Media in an interview on Thursday. “That’s not its place, that’s not its purpose. It doesn’t have that religious authority to make something sacred, but it can make it binding for the purpose of the parties.”
Albritton’s bill (S.B. 20) passed the state Senate in early March. He said his goal is to resolve a judicial controversy. Eight Alabama counties have refused to issue marriage licenses since the Obergefell decision in June 2015, due to concerns the clerks would be forced to violate their consciences by endorsing homosexual marriages.
“We get this passed, everyone in the state will be able to take care of their business,” Albritton said. S.B. 20 would “eliminate the need for the ceremony and the signing of the minister,” streamlining the process of getting married legally. All a couple would need to do is sign and notarize a document affirming their legal ability to get married, and the state would merely record it as a marriage.
“Sign it, notarize it, record it, you’re done,” the senator said. “The state would not be making the decision on who could or could not be married any longer.”
This bill would reverse a legal process set up by Jim Crow laws, whereby probate judges can decide whether or not to issue marriage licenses. “Right now the law states that a probate judge may issue a license, but there’s no requirement that they issue a license at all,” Albritton explained. “Under my bill, they don’t have an option.”
But the fact that the judges don’t have an option would free civil servants in Kim Davis’s position. “It would remove her from that threat, real or perceived, of violating her principles, because this is no longer a matter of her approving someone getting married,” the senator said. “All she’s doing is recording the act that has occurred, that is outside her authority.”
“Frankly, all of the judges in the state that I am aware of, who are in the similar position as Miss Davis, all feel that this would resolve their issues completely,” Albritton added.
By eliminating the judges’ freedom to endorse or oppose a marriage, the bill would separate the sacred celebration of a wedding from the official state recognition of a legal partnership.
“We don’t need to have a state authority solemnize or make a religious ceremony of a state function,” Albritton said. “We have come to a sense now that marriage is defined by the state as a contract, and yet religious ceremonies and religious teachings are different.” Marriage is fundamentally “a religious rite, a sacred covenant,” not a mere contract. “Those two do not go hand-in-hand and have not for some time.”
S.B. 20 “makes that break clean.” The bill “allows religious authorities to conduct marriages as they see fit, and allows the state to recognize marriages when they are established.”
Some have attacked his bill, suggesting that the law would get rid of documentation for a marriage. The senator explained that this is a misunderstanding of what the bill would actually do. In practical terms, very little would actually change.
There would still be a fee, but it becomes a “recording fee” instead of a “licensing fee.” Couples would still receive a marriage document, but it would not be a “license” but rather a “record.” Even marriage licenses under current law are limited to a 30-day period, after which a marriage is either recorded by the state or voided. After the state records a marriage, the document in question technically ceases to be a license (which gives state sanction for an action) and becomes a record of what happened.
Furthermore, this bill would also free up judges’ time and save taxpayer money. “The probate judge office will be less taxed in this regard,” Albritton explained. S.B. 20 “will eliminate the need for an additional clerk because there won’t be any need for that additional step.”
The state senator told PJ Media he fully expects S.B. 20 to pass the House of Representatives and to become settled Alabama law. This is the fourth time Albritton has introduced this bill since a federal judge struck down an Alabama law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, in early 2015, World magazine reported. Each bill has passed the Senate but failed in the House.
During a special session in September 2015, the bill came up for a vote in the House, and a majority of members voted for it, but the measure failed because it did not pass the two-thirds threshold required to pass in the special session. Albritton told PJ Media he expects the bill to come before the House in a regular session and become law.
The major hurdle at the moment? Impeachment proceedings. S.B. 20 is in the House Judiciary Committee, the same committee tasked with handling the impeachment of Governor Robert Bentley. When it comes to the governor, the state senator told PJ Media that “politics has destroyed his life.”
While S.B. 20 would protect the religious freedom of probate judges, Albritton explained that he refused to put religious liberty language into the bill because that would make it needlessly provocative. “All it does is create chaos and combativeness,” and that’s why similar legislation in states like Oklahoma and Michigan have failed. “I’m trying to take a less inflammatory methodology of accomplishing something that we need.”
The real question is, will the House Judiciary Committee agree that Alabama needs this bill more than it needs to impeach its governor?