An Alabama state senator believes he has the solution to the state's debate about who probate judges can and cannot issue marriage licenses to: Do away with the state-sanctioned license. Senate Bill 377 from Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, would end the requirement that couples obtain marriage licenses from probate judges. Instead, marriages would be a legal contract, witnessed by a clergy member, attorney or notary public, and filed with the state through the probate office.
Several weeks ago, some Republicans in the Oklahoma state legislature embraced a new resolution to the debate over marriage equality. Instead of denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a proposed bill would deny marriage licenses to all couples.
"The point of my legislation is to take the state out of the process and leave marriage in the hands of the clergy," state Rep. Todd Russ (R) said last month.
That bill actually passed the Oklahoma state House, 67 to 24, and the underlying idea now appears to be spreading. Consider this local report out of Alabama.
"My goal is to remove the state out of the lives of people," Albritton told the Decatur Daily. "No. 2 is to prevent the state from getting involved in long-term lawsuits that do no good."
Recent events have made clear that Alabama has struggled to comply with court orders involving marriage equality, so it's not surprising that conservative policymakers would begin looking for a creative way to deny same-sex couples equal-marriage rights.
But when we reach the point at which it's preferable to deny marriage licenses to literally everyone, rather than treat all couples with dignity and respect, the debate has gone off the rails.
That said, it's worth watching to see if, and how many, other states follow suit. The combination of Oklahoma and Alabama hardly constitutes a trend -- especially since neither state has actually passed proposals into law -- but it's easy to imagine social conservatives taking this up as a cause, pushing related measures in plenty of other areas hostile to marriage equality.
Watch this space.