THE ISSUE: A bill in the state House proposes an unusual approach to the controversy over same-sex marriage: end state-issued marriage licenses. It represents a cynicism toward government that is understandable, but correctable.
Even those who respect the American model of self-governance can be excused for becoming a bit cynical, especially if they live in Alabama while the Legislature is in session.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth,” proclaimed President Abraham Lincoln, in a succinct statement of the aspirations of our democratic republic.
Of the people and by the people, sure. But for the people? That’s a tough one to accept for students of Alabama politics.
One such cynic appears to be Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 377. His bill 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.
While some accuse him of using the bill as an end-run around an expected U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring states to issue same-sex marriage licenses, he says different.
Rather, he said, the bill is merely an effort to keep Alabamians from being embroiled in the controversy.
“I’m a traditionalist … but that doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility, our responsibility, of finding ways to allow for people to live their lives in Alabama without being caught up in this,” Albritton said.
He defends his bill with a basic libertarian tenet: “My goal is to remove the state out of the lives of people.”
Indeed, the state of Alabama was intruding into lives without compelling reasons, which was the point of U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s Jan. 23 ruling that state laws banning same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
The controversy from which Albritton is trying to protect Alabamians was one manufactured by elected state officials. With few exceptions, local probate judges deferred to Granade’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore stirred the pot, with limited success, and then the state Supreme Court insisted that Granade was wrong, and that the state had every right to intrude.
While one approach to the mess is to systematically remove the state of its significance — “to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” as Grover Norquist put it — another is to more aggressively pursue Lincoln’s recipe.
Rather than seek out ways to impose their beliefs, lawmakers and elected judges could seek to protect individual rights “for the people.”
And when they fail to do so — as they routinely do in this state — the people can boot them out.
Alabama’s system of self-governance is messy, but not hopeless. The people need to remind those they elect that government is of the people, and by the people. If elected officials are not working for the people, they have no place in our noble effort at self-governance.
(Published April 21, 2015)