Swapping licenses for contracts not enough in same-sex marriage battle, Alabama pastors fear

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Christian Examiner) – The Alabama State Senate voted overwhelmingly 22-3 Monday to abolish state marriage licenses and replace them with marriage contracts. The bill now awaits action in the Alabama House of Representatives.

According to Huntsville CBS Affiliate WHNT 19, the action may be a pre-emptive attempt by legislators to address the state's ongoing gay marriage debate should the United States Supreme Court rule against state bans on same-sex marriage.

The Court's decision is expected to be announced later this month.

If the Senate action becomes law, individuals wanting to marry would no longer receive marriage licenses from state probate judges. Instead, those legally authorized to marry would enter into a marriage contract and file the contract with a probate judge.

Huntsville attorney Jake Watson told the television station that the phrase "legally authorized" to marry could create a barrier for same-sex couples. "A statement that the parties are legally authorized to be married, that's going to be the catch. What is legally authorized to be married? Under the State of Alabama Law, that would not include same-sex marriage," he said.

If the Supreme Court rules that all states must issue same-sex marriage licenses, Alabama could argue that it does not issue marriage license but instead places limitations on the marriage contracts it accepts, Watson explained. This could create more rounds of legal action in federal courts and perhaps, ultimately, place another case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some Alabama pastors are not convinced the legislative action provides the ultimate solution.

Richard Harvey, pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church in Bay Minette, which resides in the district of the bill's sponsor Senator Greg Albritton, told Christian Examiner that the bill does not directly address same-sex marriage.

"The bill does not address the moral issue concerning same-sex marriage in any way. It really only offers some level of legal protection for probate judges that, under current law, are charged with the responsibility of issuing marriage licenses. As a pastor, I appreciate the attempt to offer legal protection for pastors in the sense that one would not have to sign a legally-binding document such as a marriage license if such a document did not exist. But the moral issue is ignored in an effort to provide these legal protections," he said.

"The problem we face today is that we no longer have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people," Harvey continued. "We have a judicial system that has taken precedent over all other branches -- a judicial system that has gone well beyond the confines of the Constitution in order to 'interpret' the Constitution. In state after state, the people have spoken. The people of Alabama have spoken, and rightly so, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This legislation does nothing to address the moral issue at stake. I am in favor of the bill's attempt to provide legal protection for pastors and judges in Alabama. I do not see how the bill addresses the greater objection of a vast number of Alabamians who have a moral concern for the well-being of our children and the family in general when God's design for marriage is ignored in order to appease a small minority on a moral issue that is not an inalienable right."

Aaron Hall, Pastor of Discipleship and Administration at Iron City Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama agrees: "I would applaud the fact that the Alabama Legislature is attempting to prevent same sex marriage, but I am not convinced this bill will do that. It still shows a fundamental flaw in the way the Legislature views marriage. Marriage is a covenant and not a contract. Ultimately this is an area in which pastors and churches are going to have to defy civil law and be willing to accept the consequences," he told Christian Examiner.

No date has been announced for House action on the bill.