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Alabama lawmakers seek protection for judges who won’t marry same-sex couples

Alabama lawmakers seek protection for judges who won’t marry same-sex couples

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As Alabama wrestles over the issue of same-sex marriage, some lawmakers are seeking legal protections for judges, ministers and others who refuse to officiate at, or recognize, weddings that violate their religious beliefs.

Alabama state capitol in Montgomery.
Alabama state capitol in Montgomery.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 9-4 on Thursday to pass the bill, which is part of the House Republican caucus agenda for the session.

Republican Rep. Jim Hill said he has gotten phone calls from ministers and probate judges who are concerned they will be forced to marry gay couples at some point in the future. Opponents said the bill would allow broad discrimination.

“This bill has nothing to do with the couple. This bill strictly speaks to the rights of the individual asked to perform the ceremony,” Hill said.

The bill states that no person is “required to solemnize a marriage for any person or persons.” The legislation does not specifically mention same-sex weddings. It gives civil immunity to churches, ministers, society organizations and other religious-affiliated groups for refusal to recognize, or solemnize, a marriage.

“It enshrines discrimination,” said Paul Hard, an opponent of the bill.

Hard said judges now routinely marry all sorts of people even though the judge might not personally approve of their marriage.

“No one is suggesting that probate judges should change their religious views. … They are public servants who are hired to do the job of public service. If marriage becomes the law in Alabama for same-sex couples, they are simply being asked to do their job,” Hard said.

Hard is the plaintiff in one of several lawsuits challenging Alabama’s ban on gay marriage.

Susan Watson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama said the bill was broadly written and could open the door to a broad range of discriminatory practices by organizations with religious affiliations.

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Gay couples began marrying in some, but not all, Alabama counties on Feb. 9 after a federal judge ruled the state’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to put the decision on hold.

Many probate judges stopped performing wedding ceremonies for anyone, gay or straight, so they would not have to marry gay couples.

The same-sex weddings came to a halt this week at the direction of the Alabama Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on April 28 over whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry everywhere in the country or if states can ban such unions. A ruling is expected in June.

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