Alabama is to stop issuing marriage licenses to circumvent conservative judges opposed to same-sex unions.
The Alabama House of Representatives voted for the change in response to a handful of probate judges who have refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
About six of Alabama’s 68 probate judges made the decision after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of marriage equality in 2015. Under state law, they “may” issue marriage licenses, but are not obligated to do so.
Under the bill passed by the house on Thursday (May 23), couples wishing to get wed would no longer require a license. Instead, they would submit a form which would then become a marriage certificate.
Crucially, probate judges would be legally required to accept and record the documents. It also removes the requirement for a couple to be “solemnised” by a minster or other qualified person, separating marriage from religion.
The House passed the bill 67-26. It will now go before Governor Kay Ivey to be signed into law.
Rep Neil Rafferty, the only openly LGBT member of the house, did not vote for the proposal, which he said was “born out of prejudice.”
“It accommodates a handful of judges that couldn’t get their personal feelings, couldn’t check them those at the door and couldn’t do their jobs,” he told NBC News.
—Rep Neil Rafferty
Wes Allen was one representative who did vote in favour of the bill. Allen is a former probate judge who himself stopped issuing marriage licenses in 2015.
“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, as do a lot of Alabamians,” he told local news site AL.com.
“By your signature going on that marriage license, basically in my opinion, you’re endorsing it.”
While same-sex marriage has been legal in the US for four years, support for such unions has stalled in the past two years.
A survey from the Pew Research Center published on May 15 found that 61 percent of Americans approved of marriage equality, with 31 percent opposed.
A 2017 survey found 62 percent in favour and 32 percent against.
Alabama has recently made international headlines by voting to outlaw abortion in almost all circumstances, a move which activists have said is likely to impact the state’s LGBT+ community.
The conservative state also refused to air an episode of the children’s cartoon show Arthur because it showed two male rats getting married.