Candidates share views on role of faith in public office

Published 3:00 am Saturday, October 6, 2018

Both candidates for the District 89 seat in the Alabama House of Representatives are professing Christians, but they see the role of their faith in public office differently.

Republican nominee Wes Allen made headlines in 2015 when, as probate judge of Pike County, he made the decision to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether in the probate office. He made the decision three days before a ruling legalizing same-sex marriages took effect.

“I believe that the Alabama Constitution and federal law protect my right to both live my life as a Christian and perform my elected duties,” Allen said in his statement announcing the change.

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The ruling would not allow for the issuance of marriage licenses to only heterosexual couples; if marriage licenses were issued, they must be available to homosexual couples as well.

Allen told members of the Troy Exchange Club Thursday that he was proud of taking that stand.

““I stood up and defended family and defended marriage,” Allen said. “I’m not ashamed of it; I’m very proud of that. I’m glad we did it. You can see my conservative record, value and principles that I stand for.”

Democratic nominee Joel Lee Williams, local attorney, said he disagrees with the way Allen handled that situation.

“I think if your faith interferes with your work you quit your job – you resign,” Williams said. “I don’t think you keep pocketing a paycheck and simply refuse to do your job. I don’t think that’s principle; I think that’s hypocrisy.

“ … My personal belief is that marriage is a religious sacrament between a man and a woman, but my faith is not what sets policy – the Supreme Court does,” Williams said. “As uncomfortable as I am with it, you have to respect the integrity of that. We’re a nation of laws. If that interferes with you, then resign.”

Whichever candidate is elected may have the opportunity to vote on a bill that was introduced in the last session that would change the way Alabama handles marriage licenses. The bill would no longer require a probate judge to sign the license; they would merely be filing a document.

“Maybe we should change the way we address marriage laws – I’m open to that,” Williams said. “But (the Supreme Court) said if you’re going to be in the license business, this is how you ought to be in the license business. What if an animal rights activist was elected probate judge and refused to issue hunting licenses?

“The fact that 80 to 90 percent agree with the decision doesn’t make it just, it just makes it majority,” Williams said. “The majority has unjustly subjected its will on the minority as long as humans have been around. I don’t like a lot of things Supreme Court does, but when they rule, you buckle your chinstrap and move forward.”

Allen said he would also be open to supporting the way marriage licenses are handled in the state.

“I think it solves the problem of requiring judges to put their signatures on the license,” Allen said. “There would be no ceremony required under this bill. Although ceremonies and judge signatures would not be required if the bill passes, ceremonies could still be held if the couple desires.”

Williams said he believes government should stay “out of religion business” and religion should likewise be kept separate from government.

“I’m a Christian – I don’t think it should be used as a punchline for political gain,” Williams said. “My faith is what guides my life, although I fall short and fail every minute of every day. Christianity is not under attack. I don’t want government in religion business and I’m not so arrogant as to use my office to impose my faith on you. I do that by way I live my life outside my office. No law, rule or regulation, no amount of bureaucracy can stop you from loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s my flavor of Christianity. “

Allen said his faith will continue to guide his decisions if elected to office.

“I’m a follower of Christ,” Allen said. My faith gives me hope and guides me in everything that I do, as it relates to my family and all the decisions that I make. My faith will guide me in the state house as it has guided me in the courthouse.”

Voters will choose between Allen and Williams in the general election on Tuesday, November 6. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Photo identification will be required.