Alabama Government May Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses Altogether

Leah Hickman | Contributor to | Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Alabama Government May Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses Altogether

When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, Christians in the business of officiating marriages faced a new challenge. To avoid going against biblical teachings on marriage, some judges in Alabama skirted the conflict by simply closing down their marriage license divisions. To these judges, no marriages at all meant no same-sex marriages. This, in turn, meant preserving the belief in marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman.

Cited this week in an article at NPR, Alabama judge Wes Allen explains his decision to stop issuing marriage licenses: “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and firmly believe that biblical world view,” he says. “And I couldn’t put my signature on a marriage license that I knew not to be marriage.”

After closing down these marriage license divisions, some judges like Allen expected to face lawsuits. But no one sued them. This, as Debbie Elliot explains at NPR, is likely because “Alabama’s marriage law says probate judges may issue marriage licenses, not shall.”

This nuanced language frustrates advocates of the LGBT cause. As state director of the Human Rights Campaign, Eva Kendrick, points out, “Alabama’s been one of the toughest states when it comes to access to marriage equality because of our marriage code and because the way it’s written for judges to choose to issue licenses or not.” Because of the choice that Alabama judges have in this area, some people in more rural areas have to travel significant distances to obtain a marriage license from a judge who will sign their license.

To skirt around the issue of marriage licenses in Alabama, the state government is considering a bill that will eliminate marriage licenses altogether. In this legislation, rather than getting a license, 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.” In this new system, marriage would become a contractual relationship.

Some Alabama politicians object to this new legislation, saying that it degrades the sacredness of marriage as an institution. Speaking in opposition to the bill, Republican Senator Phil Williams says, “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. You’re just taking the contract down there and the probate judge is just the clerk.”

Alabama is not the only state considering this step. Governments of other states including Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Montana are also considering replacing marriage licenses with contracts.


Leah Hickman is a 2017 graduate of Hillsdale College’s English program. She freelances for and has written pieces for multiple Hillsdale College campus publications as well as for and the Discover Laura Blog. Read more by Leah at

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Publication date: February 28, 2018