Alabama votes to do away with marriage licenses, wedding ceremonies in the name of equality

A new bill in Alabama that should help same-sex couples wishing to get married is not only getting plenty of backlash, the only openly gay member of the Alabama House even voted against it.

A bill ending the state’s marriage-license requirement passed the Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday, ushering in a wave of criticism from advocates for LGBTQ rights, lawmakers and even the state’s wedding industry, according to AL.com.

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The bill, which was sponsored by Alabama Republican State Sen. Greg Albritton, passed in a vote of 67 to 26 and heads to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey to potentially be signed into law. Technically the law purports to treat everyone equally by eliminating the need for marriage licenses – and even a wedding ceremony – and only requires an affidavit to be filled out confirming the couple is not already married and meet legal requirements, such as age.

“I feel like while in and of itself it is not prejudiced, I feel like it was born out of prejudice though,” Alabama State Rep. Neil Rafferty, a Democrat member of the House who is also gay, voted against the bill.

“That’s just kind of my ultimate feelings, why I ultimately couldn’t support the bill, even though in and of itself it does create a system that treats everyone equal before the state, Rafferty who married his partner of 15 years last year, added.

The controversial bill, which effectively renders all weddings in the state meaningless now, follows the headline-making near-total abortion ban signed into law by Ivey just days ago.

“As long as the affidavits, forms and data are provided,” the bill states, then the probate judge has “no authority to reject any recording of marriage.”

The measure follows the legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 which prompted some Alabama probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses because they didn’t want to sign them. Rafferty believes those judges who have not been issuing the licenses anyway due to personal beliefs will now get around their responsibilities.

“I think it’s far less about good governance and more about protecting folks that don’t want to do their jobs,” Rafferty said.

But the bill’s sponsor touted its merits.

“It allows everybody in the state now to go to their local courthouse, or wherever, to accomplish this without traveling somewhere else, which is the intent of the law,” Albritton said.

He also took aim at the religious component of marriage, ending the requirement for a minister or another qualified person involved in order that a marriage be “solemnized.”

Critics fear the end of wedding licenses, and ultimately a wedding ceremony can harm local businesses which make their living in the wedding industry.

“You won’t be getting married at that wedding if this law passes,” Don Boozer, who owns a venue for special occasions like weddings, said, according to AL.com.

“You might have a minister read some, you might exchange vows. You might have some sort of ceremony. But ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’ will be totally meaningless because that man and wife union happens at the courthouse,.” he added.

Making wedding ceremonies optional would take away from their importance over time, Mike Alexander, who owns a tuxedo store as well as a catering service and prom store, believes.

“They come in from other states for their granddaughters’ weddings here,” Alexander, who has owned his business for 27 years, said. “If their granddaughter is not having to have that ceremony, they’re just filling out a piece of paper and having a party, those people will not be coming into town.”

“So it’s not only hurting the wedding industry itself – the caterers, the florists, the barns, places like that -,” he added.  i”It’s going to be hurting everything in the long run because it’s going to be all the way down to the hotels, the restaurants, everything.”

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