MONTGOMERY, Ala. (March 8, 2017) – An Alabama bill that would abolish marriage licenses in the state, and effectively nullify in practice both major sides of the contentious national debate over government-sanctioned marriage, overwhelmingly passed the Senate yesterday.
Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Bay Minette) filed Senate Bill 20 (SB20) last month. The legislation would abolish all requirements to obtain a marriage license in Alabama. Instead, probate judges would simply record civil contracts of marriage between two individuals based on signed affidavits.
“All requirements to obtain a marriage license by the State of Alabama are hereby abolished and repealed. The requirement of a ceremony of marriage to solemnized the marriage is abolished.”
The Senate approved SB20 by a 22-6 vote.
The proposed law would maintain a few state requirements governing marriage. Minors between the ages of 16 and 18 would have to obtain parental permission before marrying, the state would not record a marriage if either party was already married, and the parties could not be related by blood or adoption as already stipulated in state law.
Civil or religious ceremonies would have no legal effect upon the validity of the marriage. The state would only recognize the legal contract signed by the two parties entering into the marriage.
“A civil and independent or religious ceremony of marriage, celebration of marriage, solemnization of marriage, or any other officiation, or administration of the vows of marriage may be conducted or engaged in by the parties by an officiant or other presiding person to be selected by the persons entering into the marriage. The state shall have no requirement for any such ceremony or proceeding which, if performed or not performed, will have no legal effect upon the validity of the marriage.”
In practice, the state’s role in marriage would be limited to recording marriages that have already occurred. As I pointed out in a recent appearance on the Mike Slater Show, under the proposed law, it would be much like buying a house. You don’t have to get a license to buy a house. You just record the deed once the transaction is complete.
The Alabama Senate passed a similar bill during the 2016 session, and a House committee approved it as well, but the full House did not take final action before the legislative session ended.
SB20 would reduce the state’s role in defining and regulating marriage, which has become a contentious issue and places a burden on government officials torn between the legal requirements of their jobs and their personal religious convictions.
By limiting the state’s role in marriage, legislation would allow Alabamans to structure their personal relationships as they see fit without interference or approval from the government.
Removing state meddling in marriage would render void the edicts of federal judges that have overturned state laws defining the institution. The founding generation never envisioned unelected judges issuing ex cathedra pronouncements regarding the definition of social institutions, and the Constitution delegates the federal judiciary no authority to do so.
Constitutionally, marriage is an issue left to the state and the people.
As a 2007 New York Times op/ed points out, for centuries marriage was a private affair.
“For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity. For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.
In fact, state marriage licenses were used as a way to prevent interracial marriages. Later, the NYT story recounts, the licenses became necessary in order to subsidize the welfare state.
“The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.”
Something rarely considered by those seeking to control the state’s definition of marriage is that a marriage license means a person requires government permission before getting married. In America, people generally cannot drive a vehicle without a license. People cannot practice law without a license, nor can they provide medical care. Put another way, under a licensing scheme, marriage is not a right, nor a religious institution, but a privilege granted by the state and limited by its requirements.
Consider this: In the same way a driver can lose their license if they break certain traffic laws, a man or woman, theoretically, could one day find their marriage license revoked for breaking certain “marriage” rules, whether it pertains to child rearing, or their religious and political convictions.
Christopher Wesley, an associated scholar at the Mises Institute, wrote that “marriage is most endangered when it rests in the coercive hands of the State.”
SB20 now moves to the House for further consideration. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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