Another year, another state contemplating the idea of getting out of the marriage license business


My mother was 17 and my father 19 when they went to a county courthouse — along with their parents because of my mom's age — to get a marriage license in 1964.

With that important piece of government paper in hand, a minister joined them in holy matrimony in a simple, living-room ceremony in their Missouri Bootheel hometown.

When my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2014, I wrote a Christian Chronicle column about their commitment to God and each other.

For the last two weeks, I've witnessed a new chapter of their "love story" at a Texas hospital. My dad is battling a severe case of pneumonia and a problem with his kidney function.

Night after night, Mom has slept (albeit not much) on a hospital couch to care for Dad. At this point, they are both beyond exhausted. And Dad is still hooked up to oxygen and having trouble breathing.

Suffice it to say that they took their marriage vows — sanctioned by their government and their faith — seriously.

But once again in 2018, some lawmakers are asking whether the government belongs in that equation at all. 

In 2015, my home state of Oklahoma made headlines when it contemplated getting out of the marriage license business. A similar proposal to end government-sanctioned marriage in Missouri drew attention last year. On the flip side, some religious leaders have refused in recent years to sign government marriage licenses — saying that's not their role.

Enter Alabama, which is considering similar legislation this session in response to the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015.

NPR reports:

The state Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would get rid of marriage licenses altogether. Instead, couples would submit a form affirming they've met the legal requirements for getting married and then record a marriage contract at the probate office.
"Basically we're getting Alabama out of the marriage business," says Republican Rep. Paul Beckman, who is sponsoring the bill in the Alabama House, where it has passed the Judiciary Committee.
Republican state Sen. Greg Albritton has tried for several years to change the system to a marriage contract.
"It allows the probate judge to not be the gatekeeper by order of the state of say who can marry and who can't," Albritton says.
Albritton says he's a traditionalist who believes marriage should be between one man and one woman. But he says since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Alabama's system hasn't worked.
"I disagree with that opinion. However, they make the law," says Albritton. "I'm trying to accommodate that and trying to find a way that we can accommodate as many people and hurt no one."
But not everyone agrees that the legislation does no harm.
"I just think it cheapens the value of the most sacred relationship in the world," says Republican Phil Williams, the lone senator to vote against the bill.
"When you take marriage and you reduce it to a mere contract, it's almost like you're just doing nothing more than recording the deed to your property at the courthouse," he says. "You're just taking the contract down there and the probate judge is just the clerk."

The NPR report is interesting and informative.

But here's what I'd love to see: some interviews with religious leaders as well as politicians.

What do Alabama's people of faith think about the idea of the state getting out of the marriage business? In their opinion, would that move strengthen or weaken marriages? Certainly, such input would improve the quality of news reports on the legislation.

Please respect our Commenting Policy