Ditching Marriage Licenses: Alabama Nearly Does the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

Alabama almost became the first state in the union to do away with marriage licenses. A bill passed the state senate, but failed in the house, which would have eliminated licenses in favor of contracts between those “legally authorized to be married.”


It’s an idea which many have been floating since the debate over gay marriage began, particularly in libertarian circles. Why do we need a license to get married? Should relationships require government approval? Or should government recognize any relationship formed by consenting adults, and protect the rights of the individuals within as it would in any contract?

Unfortunately, the Alabama effort fails to advance that conversation. The move to abolish marriage licenses isn’t informed by the principle of free association so much as a desire to sidestep an anticipated Supreme Court decision. Had the bill become law, it could have effectively maintained a ban on gay marriage in Alabama. From The Daily Caller:

In January a federal judge overturned Alabama’s legal and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, but Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore almost immediately told probate judges they don’t have to adhere to the ruling, because the only federal court Alabama must adhere to is the U.S. Supreme Court. (RELATED: Alabama Chief Justice Defies Federal Court On Gay Marriage)

In March the Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses, but in May the federal court again ordered the judges to issue the same-sex licenses. That ruling is on hold, however, until the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage expected this month.

Sen. Albritton’s bill would avoid the issue altogether by scrapping marriage licenses for everyone in the state. If the Supreme Court rules that states must issue same-sex marriage licenses, Alabama could avert the ruling by saying it doesn’t issue any licenses.


Bill sponsor Republican Senator Greg Albritton told the Decatur Daily that he wanted “to remove the state out of the lives of people.” In order to accomplish that, his bill would have to recognize any contractual relationship, not just those “legally authorized.”


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