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Alabama Legislature may eliminate judge-signed marriage licenses

Judge-signed marriage licenses could be a thing of the past if the Alabama House of Representatives votes in favor this week of a bill eliminating the traditional certificates.

Of course, marriage licenses have been unattainable in Pike County since Probate Judge Wes Allen chose to stop issuing them just before a Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage took effect in February 2015.

Two years later, Allen said this bill by the Legislature would “fix the problem.”

“I think it solves the problem of requiring judges to put their signature on the license,” Allen said. “There would be no ceremony required under this bill.”

Instead, Alabama residents would simply fill out a form from the Alabama Department of Public Health, get it signed by two witnesses and bring it to their local probate office for filing.

Allen said this procedure has already been tested by branches of the military.

Although ceremonies and judge signatures would not be required if the bill passes, Allen said they could still be held if the couple desires.

Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Pike, said he has not yet read the bill closely, but does not have any objection to the bill if there are no legal ramifications to it.

Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, of Range, said he is trying to strike a compromise that follows the landmark decision allowing gays and lesbians to marry while protecting the religious liberties of judges and others.

“I’m trying to get it so we can have every county have marriages performed and also will be handled and recorded in a way that protects everyone’s rights, both the left and the right,” Albritton said.

Critics have argued the bill constitutes a large amount of change to accommodate the probate judges who stopped handing out marriage licenses when gay couples were allowed to marry.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, said the bill is “unnecessary and very confusing to some Alabamians” and she is worried it could create difficulties when people apply for spousal benefits, such as military benefits, that have traditionally required a copy of a marriage license.

“So why is the Legislature taking up this bill, because there are some county officials that don’t want to adhere to federal law and give marriage licenses to same sex couples? If you don’t want to honor the rule of law, you shouldn’t serve in a public capacity,” Coleman said.

Albritton argued the proposal is “not a lot of change.”

“You are using a very similar form. You are recording it the same way and establishing the marriage in the same way. The only thing you are doing is having the state stop coming in and saying — ‘You can get married and you can’t’ — being the gate keeper,” Albritton said.

The bill is expected to be considered on the House floor this week and would need to be signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey if passed.