In response to probate judges refusing to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage, a Republican lawmaker sponsored a bill to get rid of marriage licenses altogether.
On Thursday, the Alabama Senate approved the bill. Organizations that advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people say that this legislative action is just a way for Alabama to shirk its full duty to same-sex couples who want to get married.
Sen. Greg Albritton (R) first filed this bill in 2015, according to the Montgomery Adviser. He has introduced such a bill every year since then. Should the bill pass, all couples wishing to get married will be required to submit affidavits or forms to a probate judge, whereupon that judge will record the marriage, provided the affidavits include all the required information. The couple would then be married without need for a ceremony.
Albritton claims that as many as 10 of 68 probate judges in the state stopped issuing marriage licenses. Last year, Probate Judge Nick Williams, told the American Bar Association Journal that he hadn’t issued marriage licenses or performed ceremonies in more than three years.
“It gets us out of the position of having to participate in something we totally disagree with,” Williams told the Journal.
Republicans had said they are interested in protecting judges who don’t want to appear as if they are approving of ceremonies between same-sex couples.
“A license is a granting of permission or authority for people to take actions. That’s the same thing with marriage licenses,” Albritton said during a floor debate this week.
He said he first got the idea from similar legislation actions in Oklahoma, where same-sex marriage had been legal since 2014. In March of 2015, the state legislature passed legislation that would put a stop to the issuing of marriage licenses. The legislation was intended to give an out to county clerks who did not want to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Nick Morrow, press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said Alabama lawmakers could make it easier to for same-sex couples to get married without taking this action.
“Alabama’s been one of the toughest states when it comes to access to marriage equality because of its marriage code and because the way it’s written for judges to choose to issue licenses or not,” Morrow told ThinkProgress in an email. “In many counties, Alabamians did not have equal access to marriage. That’s wrong. Lawmakers in Alabama should be making it easier for all Alabamians to access the benefits of marriage, not more difficult.”
Alabama law specifically says that a probate judge “may” issue marriage licenses. In February 2015, U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and required probate judges to issue marriage licenses. The next month, the state’s then-Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) ordered a halt to same-sex marriages. After his order, many probate offices stopped issuing licenses altogether. Moore was then suspended without pay for the rest of his term.
His actions had consequences on same-sex couples. According to Birmingham Real Time News, which analyzed Alabama Center for Health Statistics data, 577 same-sex couples were married in February 2015 but only 155 same-sex couples got married in March, April, May, and June combined. In July of 2015, same-sex marriages rose again and 163 couples married.
In addition to legislation eliminating marriage licenses, states across the country have made it difficult to recognize married same-sex parents and various benefits for same-sex couples.
According to a 2018 Movement Advancement Project report, a lower court in Mississippi refused to award parental rights in a divorce case to the mother who did not give birth to her child. Arkansas would not put both spouses on a birth certificate until it was forced to in 2017 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Texas Supreme Court overturned a decision that would have allowed same-sex couples in Houston to enjoy the same employment benefits as city employees as a married man and woman. Many states still enjoy broad religious exemption laws that allow businesses, nonprofits, and individuals refer to their religious beliefs when they don’t wish to comply with a law.