In the wake of one of the most disgraceful moments in modern American history – that being the imprisonment of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis – the Alabama legislature is taking a powerful step to ensure religious freedom for their own government employees. Instead of fighting for conscience one clerk at a time, a new bill would instead take government out of the marriage licensing industry altogether.
SB21 would have Alabama couples fill out a marriage contract rather than apply for a license. This contract would essentially inform the state that the couples wish to marry. Probate judges would see to it that the couples were of an appropriate age to marry and then file the paperwork away. Done and done. Same-sex couples and traditional couples would secure government permission without endangering the religious liberties of the state’s county clerks and judges.
According to The New York Times, probate judges in at least 13 Alabama counties have already said they will not issue marriage licenses in the wake of the Supreme Court’s summer decision on same-sex unions. Should their hands be forced by legal complaints, these judges will find themselves in the same predicament Davis herself endured. State Senator Greg Albritton says that the new bill will alleviate this competition between religion and the law. “Kentucky,” he warned, “is a precursor to where we are headed.”
Naturally, because this modification would actually permit public employees their constitutionally-guaranteed right to religious freedom, LGBT advocates despise the bill. “There is absolutely no reason to change the way the state of Alabama handles marriages, period,” reads a press release from HRC Alabama, Equality Alabama, and the ACLU. “While the bill impacts all Alabamians who wish to get married, it is clearly unnecessary, needless, and being driven by elected officials who oppose marriage equality victories and now wish to score cheap political points because of it. Frankly, it’s a ham-handed solution in search of a non-existent problem.”
Whether or not Alabama’s solution is ham-handed or not is a matter of opinion, but to claim it’s a solution to a “non-existent problem” defies all known evidence. The Supreme Court’s decision created an avalanche of problems – constitutionally, morally, and socially. If these problems can be (at least somewhat) solved by removing state endorsement from the equation, what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is that this has never been about legal marriage equality. This is a culture war, and these rabid advocates are not about to have their victory stolen from them so easily. Taking a page from Gore Vidal, it’s not enough that the LGBT movement should succeed; everyone else must fail.