MONTGOMERY — An Alabama state senator believes he has the solution to the state’s debate about who probate judges can and cannot issue marriage licenses to: Do away with the state-sanctioned license.
Senate Bill 377 from Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, would end the requirement that couples obtain marriage licenses from probate judges. Instead, marriages would be a legal contract, witnessed by a clergy member, attorney or notary public, and filed with the state through the probate office.
“My goal is to remove the state out of the lives of people,” Albritton said. “No. 2 is to prevent the state from getting involved in long-term lawsuits that do no good.”
In February, a federal judge overturned the state’s gay marriage ban. But marriages were halted in early March when the Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges to stop issuing the licenses.
Albritton said his bill isn’t pro same-sex marriage — he said many of his conservative colleagues have to look to the right to see him — but a result of the recent confusion.
“I’m a traditionalist … but that doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility, our responsibility, of finding ways to allow for people to live their lives in Alabama without being caught up in this,” Albritton said.
Some probate judges stopped issuing license to all couples for a period after the federal judge’s ruling.
“We needed to have something in a policy and in procedure that could give people the ability to get married legally and lawfully without threat of being caught in some web of lawsuits.”
Morgan County Probate Judge Greg Cain on Thursday said he wasn’t aware of the legislation.
Albritton said his bill doesn’t change the rules about the current requirements to get married, including age. And it doesn’t change the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. That may be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer.
State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, said the bill is another effort to keep gay couples from legally wedding.
“Why else would they be doing it now?” she said. “But it hurts straight couples more than it hurts same-sex couples.
“I’m not opposed to it; I’m opposed to why (they’re) doing it.”
Similar legislation was approved last month by the Oklahoma House. The sponsor there, Republican Rep. Todd Russ, said his legislation was in response to gay marriage being ruled legal in that state and was a way to “sidestep government overreach.”
Todd said those fighting gay marriage are in a losing battle.
“We’re not going away. You can try to put up barriers, but you can’t push us back in the closet,” she said.
This week, a Senate subcommittee voted in favor of a bill that would allow probate judges and others to refuse to marry couples.
Critics said it could apply to anyone, including divorcees and interracial couples. The House already has approved the legislation.
Albritton said House Bill 56 will lead to legal challenges for the state. “We don’t need to do that.”
He filed his bill this week, but Albritton has been working to gather support for it for months.
Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, is for doing away with the state-issued license.
“We didn’t have them until the 1900s. Why do we need them now?” he said.
Albritton said that so far he has received more support from the left than the right, but his bill is conservative.
“How much more right-wing can you be than to get government out of your life, particularly your personal life,” he said. “And what’s more personal than marriage?”