Alabama House Rejects Bill to Abolish Marriage Licensing

On June 4, Alabama’s House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 against a bill, which had previously prevailed in the Alabama Senate, that would have abolished marriage licensing in the state and replaced it with a contract process. The proposal, which had been introduced by State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Range), was aimed at removing probate judges from the marriage licensing process in light of the fact that some of them had arbitrarily refused to sign off on same-sex marriages during a brief period earlier this year when the practice became legal following a January federal court ruling. Under the bill, couples looking to marry would no longer have had to ask a government official for permission.

Though an Alabama Supreme Court injunction had temporarily halted same-sex marriages in Alabama after January’s federal court ruling, Senator Albritton introduced the proposal to abandon marriage licenses in the interim in an effort to get out in front of a potential Supreme Court decision that might re-start the practice in the state. As it happens, that ruling came down on Friday, as the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 US states.

However, as The Mongtomery Advertiser points out, since Senator Albritton’s bill failed, probate judges still have the de facto authority to choose who can marry and some will likely refuse to sign off on same-sex marriages in the wake of Friday’s Supreme Court decision.

Critics of Senator Albritton’s bill called it premature, as, at the time, the Supreme Court had not yet ruled on same-sex marriage. Now that it has and Albritton’s bill has failed, couples attempting to have their same-sex marriages certified by the state may face a chaotic situation in which probate judges in various counties refuse to do so altogether.

If I’m premature, blame me for trying to do right a little early,” said Senator Albritton earlier this month, defending his then-ahead-of-the-times effort to prevent the combination of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling and probate judges’ refusals to sign off on same-sex marriages from plunging the state’s marriage licensing system into disarray.

Had Albritton’s bill passed, same-sex couples could have certified their marriage contracts with a signature by a notary public, clergy member, or attorney, rather than by seeking the approval of a probate judge who may be unwilling to certify their union.

According to The Wall Street Journal‘s law blog, ACLU of Alabama executive director Susan Watson said that four probate judges in the state are currently not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and eight others have stopped issuing marriage licenses at all in the wake of Friday’s Supreme Court decision.