House votes to end marriage licenses

Published 9:10 pm Friday, May 24, 2019

A bill to end the issuance of marriage licenses has been sent to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey to be signed into law.

The issue has been front and center numerous times in Pike County, beginning with then probate judge Wes Allen’s decision to stop issuing marriage licenses in the county in February 2015.

His decision came three days before the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage took effect.

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“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 at the time. “The way that the law allows me to do that is by giving me the discretion to end the issuance of marriage licenses, and that is the legal course I am taking.”

Now representing District 89 in the Alabama House of Representatives, Allen voted in favor of the bill Thursday to end the issuance of marriage licenses across the state, making marriage a public record to be filed at probate offices, but not signed by judges.

“It takes the government official out of the equation,” Allen said. “You don’t have to have the blessing or endorsement of a government official to be married. I believe marriage is between one man and one woman – I didn’t want to put my signature on a marriage license that went against my beliefs and my values. by putting my signature on it, I viewed it as me endorsing it just like signing a check. With this new law, [the couple would] fill out the certificate or affidavit, come in and record it. The same fees will be accepted just like now. It will be no different except it removes the government official’s involvement.”

The House of Representatives voted 67-26 for the bill that would replace marriage licenses with a new form called a marriage certificate.

Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, the sponsor of the bill, said he proposed the change so people can obtain marriage documents in every county.

Under the proposed change, couples would return a form and an affidavit affirming they meet legal requirements to be married, to the probate judge’s office. The judge, or someone in his or her office, would still sign the certificate to show it was filed with the county. Albritton said that is acceptable to the judges because it is simply signing off on the documents being filed.

The issue was raised once again during the Republican primary as Michael Bunn and Alton Starling competed to fill the vacancy left by Allen when he decided to run for the House.

Bunn, who was ultimately elected by Pike County voters, campaigned on continuing Allen’s practice of issuing no licenses in Pike County. Starling campaigned that issuing marriage licenses to all parties legally allowed would be his duty if elected probate judge.

Although the Probate Judges Association took no stance on the bill, Bunn said he personally supported it.

“It’s good for Alabama,” Bunn said. “Hopefully Gov. Ivey will sign it and we can move forward in this issue. We’re getting out of the marriage licensing business. We don’t have to have government intervention.”

Since Allen made the decision to end the issuance of marriage licenses, Pike County couples have had to get marriage certificates from surrounding counties.

Bunn said the new process will be further clarified if Ivey signs it into law.

“It takes the permission part out of the loop, but there’s still a recording function,” Bunn said. “They’ll make that much clearer and promulgate those rules once [the bill] is signed. I don’t think it will change whether people are having ceremonies, it’s getting the state out of the business … This would be no different than recording a deed at this point.”