MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama on Wednesday inched closer to abolishing judge-signed marriage licenses, a change that would let conservative probate judges avoid issuing them to same-sex couples.
A few Alabama probate judges for years have refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone so they do not have to grant them to gay couples.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved the bill on a 9-5 vote. The measure cleared the Alabama Senate in a 19-1 vote last week.
Instead of a license issued by a probate judge, couples would sign and submit a form. Couples would no longer need a wedding ceremony, but could choose to have one.
Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, of Range, said he is trying to strike a compromise that follows the landmark decision allowing gays and lesbians to marry while protecting the religious liberties of judges and others.
"I'm trying to get it so we can have every county have marriages performed and also will be handled and recorded in a way that protects everyone's rights, both the left and the right," Albritton said.
Critics have argued the bill constitutes a large amount of change to accommodate the seven or so probate judges who stopped handing out marriage licenses when gay couples were allowed to marry.
Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, said the bill is "unnecessary and very confusing to some Alabamians" and she is worried it could create difficulties when people apply for spousal benefits, such as military benefits, that have traditionally required a copy of a marriage license.
"So why is the legislature taking up this bill, because there are some county officials that don't want to adhere to federal law and give marriage licenses to same sex couples? If you don't want to honor the rule of law, you shouldn't serve in a public capacity," Coleman said.
Albritton argued the proposal is "not a lot of change."
"You are using a very similar form. You are recording it the same way and establishing the marriage in the same way. The only thing you are doing is having the state stop coming in and saying — 'You can get married and you can't' — being the gate keeper," Albritton said.
The bill now moves to the floor of the Alabama House.