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Alabama Shakes



The Alabama state senate recently passed SB377, by a 22-3 vote, which seeks to end the practice of state-licensed marriages. For everyone. Period. A blog known as the Tenth Amendment Center reported favorably on the measure, and as this is an issue near and dear, I wanted to take a moment (or two) to go over their thoughts on the subject, and then offer mine in return. I don't normally like to do this here, but felt it was necessary in order to clarify a few things.

Here we go...

First, there is a quote from Alabama State Senator Greg Albritton:

“When you invite the state into those matters of personal or religious import, it creates difficulties,” Sen. Albritton said about his bill in April. “Go back long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Early twentieth century, if you go back and look and try to find marriage licenses for your grandparents or great grandparents, you won’t find it. What you will find instead is where people have come in and recorded when a marriage has occurred.”
The bill would replace all references to marriages “licenses” in state law with “contracts.” The legislation would not invalidate any marriage licenses issued prior to the bill being passed.

Honestly, I have no idea if what Albritton says is true regarding the history of marriage in Alabama, though, for the sake of argument, let's say he's correct. It should go without saying that referencing how things were done in the past has little bearing on the present. Yes, it's good to know our history, but it shouldn't really stand as an excuse for doing something currently. For example, go back long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, you will find that our country practiced slavery, and didn't allow women to vote. Would Albritton use that as justification for reverting to those ways?

Again, history, though valuable, should not dictate our future. Doing so would invariably lead to cherry-picking.

Next, the author of the blog writes about what they perceive as the practical benefits of SB377:

SB377 would accomplish two things.
First, it would render void the edicts of federal judges that have overturned state laws defining marriage. The founding generation never envisioned unelected judges issuing ex cathedra pronouncements regarding the definition of social institutions like marriage and the Constitution delegates the federal judiciary no authority to meddle in the issue. Marriage is a realm clearly left to the state and the people..
Second, the bill would get the state government out of defining marriage entirely as well, ending the squabble between factions that seek to harness the power of the state, thereby taking the burden off government officials who may be torn between what is legally required of them and their religious convictions.
The intent or motives behind this bill are a moot point. By removing the state from the equation, no one can force another to accept their marriage, nor can they force another to reject that person’s own beliefs regarding an institution older than government.
“Licenses are used as a way to stop people from doing things,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “My personal relationship should not be subject to government permission.”

That's a very loaded section, complete with the "unelected judges" diatribe so often used when judicial rulings do not go in favor of the conservative element. There's also the 'get the state out of marriage' argument which, unfortunately, has gained steamed even among my pro-LGBT friends. The author of the blog post seeks to diminish its impact by calling the reasoning behind the effort a "moot point." To an extent, this it true. Something should be judged on its merits (or lack thereof), and not necessarily the motives of those pushing it. But I think we all know the motives here.

The push to get the government out of the business of marriage is basically a pick-up-your-ball-and-go-home maneuver. Those who oppose gay marriage have seen their opinion defeated in public opinion polls and (mostly) in the court of law, so now it's the nuclear option: No marriages for anyone. At least, none sanctioned by the government. I have yet to hear a really good, concrete reason for this, other than it was kind of done that way in the past.

As far as government officials being "torn between what is legally required of them and their religious convictions"....  Look, no one put a gun to their head and told them to be a government official. We all have jobs, and often times those jobs comes with requirements. Someone working at Barnes & Noble may have to ring-up a book by Sean Hannity, even if they can't morally stand the dude. That's part of their job. A pharmacist may have to fill a prescription for the Morning-After Pill. A bakery may have to bake a cake for gay folk. This is life.

Before I tackle the last part, about someone's personal relationship not being subjected to the government's permission, I'll go ahead and quote the last bit that deserves a rebuttal.

Something that is rarely considered by those seeking to control the state’s definition of marriage is that a marriage license means a citizen requires the permission of their government before they can get married. A person cannot drive a vehicle, aside from limited circumstances, without a license. A person cannot practice law without a license, nor can they engage in medical care.
Put another way, marriage is not a right, or a religious institution, but a privilege the state grants us if we meet the conditions put upon us.
Consider this: In the same way a driver can lose their license if they break certain traffic laws, a man or woman, theoretically, could one day find their marriage license revoked for breaking certain “marriage” rules, whether it pertains to child rearing, or their religious and political convictions.

This is the section that actually makes the most sense (or at least begs the most serious thought). Those on the pro-gay marriage side (myself included) often refer to marriage for us as a "right," and the blog post's author brings up how it is a license, much the same as drivers' license or law license. But is it? And is that even the point?

In order to receive a law or drivers' license, one is required to receive education on said subjects, and then take tests (and pass them). There are no such qualifications for obtaining a marriage license. At the federal level, the only requirements are that there be two people involved, that they be of a certain age, and that one of them have a penis and one of them have a vagina. That's it. There is no marriage education course requirement, no concern as to the mental, emotional, financial stability of the participants. Nada. Zilch. None.

So, in that sense, the author is making a false comparison. What the marriage equality argument really centers on is the freedom of consenting adults to marry the person of their choosing. Heterosexual adults are free to marry who they want as, by definition of their sexuality, they would likely choose someone of the opposite sex. Homosexual adults are being disallowed the option to (by definition of their sexuality) marry the person of their choosing, and that creates an unequal class system. That is the pertinent argument, not whether or not a government license is required.

Finally, I'm not sure if those who champion the notion of getting the government out of the marriage business have really thought things through. This would fundamentally alter many issues. Dependent coverage under health insurance, for one (insurance companies are unlikely to want to cover someone just because you say you're married to them). No more filing taxes jointly as a married couple. If divorce occurs, then don't expect the courts to divvy-up the financials for you, nor to determine child custody (you wanted the government out of your personal life, remember?).

In short, marriage is susceptible to government regulation, though (perhaps oddly) it is much, much, much more loosely regulated than things like practicing law or driving an automobile. If you truly want it to be unregulated by the government, then ok, but do it for real. No government involvement whatsoever. If problems in your marriage arise, you're on your own. Understand that. Realize what it means, and no "Yes, buts..."  Down that path hypocrites are born.


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