Probate judge candidates disagree on marriage license issue

Published 8:54 pm Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Republican candidates for Pike County probate judge have differing views on “keep(ing) Pike County out of the marriage license business.”

In an effort to avoid being forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, current Probate Judge Wes Allen ceased issuing all marriage licenses in February 2015.

Michael Bunn and Alton Starling differ on whether to continue that policy if elected.

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Bunn, a local attorney, said the probate office should continue in its current practice of not issuing marriage licenses to any couples. “This issue was dealt with in 2015,” Bunn said. “There’s no reason to rehash this issue and start issuing marriage licenses.

“More than 80 percent of Pike County voters affirmed their belief that marriage should be defined as being between one man and one woman when they voted for the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Act. My job as probate judge will be to represent the people of Pike County, and they have made it very clear that they support the decision that Wes Allen made.”

Allen declared the probate office “out of the marriage licensing business” on February 6, 2015, three days before a Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage took effect.

Starling, currently the clerk for the City of Troy, said he opposes same-sex marriage personally, but sees issuing marriage license as a duty of the probate judge’s office and because of that would be compelled to fulfill his duty.

“At what point do I let my personal opinions say I am going to stop issuing licenses?” Starling said. “I’ve been issuing (other types of) licenses for the city for 21 years and I don’t let my personal opinion get into it … Which duties are we choosing not to do and which to do? That’s what scares me.”

Starling clarified that he would not preside over a gay marriage ceremony if elected to the office; he would only sign licenses, whether for same-sex or heterosexual couples, as required by law.

Despite their differences, the Alabama Legislature could decide the issue for whoever is elected come November.

A bill currently in the House of Representatives would eliminate marriage licenses in the state, instead creating a form that probate judges would merely file, not sign or authorize. The bill would help diffuse the personal objections of judges who did not want to sign licenses for same-sex couples.

Bunn said he does not expect that bill to pass but does agree that the state should stop issuing marriage licenses. “We (as a state) need to get out of the marriage licensing business,” Bunn said.

Starling said he would carry out whatever duties the state assigns to probate judges.

Starling and Bunn will square off in the Republican primary on June 5. As of now, the winner of the primary would be unopposed for the seat. An independent candidate could, however, qualify by June 5 to challenge the Republican nominee.