April 2018 Church & State Magazine - April 2018

Local Officials In Alabama Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses

  Rokia Hassanein

Some local officials in Alabama have stopped issuing marriage licenses entirely rather than give them to same-sex couples.

In many Alabama counties, marriage licenses are dis­tributed by local officials known as probate judges. These officials are not technically judges and may have other duties, such as dealing with land records, licensing auto­mobiles and overseeing elections.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported recently that some probate judges have left the marriage license business in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision upholding marriage equality.

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and firmly believe that biblical worldview,” Wes Allen, a probate judge in Pike County, said. “And I couldn’t put my signature on a marriage license that I knew not to be marriage.”

According to NPR, at least 12 Alabama probate judges have followed suit. The officials cite a loophole in Alabama’s marriage laws that says that probate judges may issue marriage licenses but that they aren’t required to. In some cases, couples who want to get married have to travel to another county. 

“Alabama’s been one of the toughest states when it comes to access to marriage equality because of our marriage code and because the way it’s written for judges to choose to issue licenses or not,” Eva Kendrick, state director for the Human Rights Campaign, told NPR.

The state legislature is considering rewriting Ala­bama’s marriage law. Under the terms of one bill, couples would submit a form affirming that they meet the legal requirements for marriage. They would then file a marriage contract at the probate office.

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