Is Alabama about to resolve the marriage dispute?

by on 26 May, 2015

By Damion Otto 

Alabama’s state Senate has passed a bill that will end the need for government sanctioned marriage licenses, leaving it to individuals and civil society to decide what marriage is. After July 1st—if the bill becomes law—couples will only be required to lodge a contract with the authorities to keep a legal record of the marriage.

Critics have accused Senator Greg Albritton, the bill’s sponsor, of trying to stifle the move towards marriage equality, an accusation he denies:

“When you invite the state into those matters of personal or religious import, it creates difficulties… Early [in the] 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.”

Regardless of his motivations, Albritton makes a valid point.

When the state monopolises the right to define marriage and excludes certain citizens, political conflict is inevitable.

Proponents of same-sex marriage feel that same-sex couples are victims of state-mandated discrimination. Conversely, opponents believe that marriage is a sacred institution, primarily for the purpose of procreation, that cannot—or should not—be tinkered with to cater to people with a non-traditional lifestyle.

Government intervention in the institution of marriage is a relatively recent phenomenon. It has created friction in society and inevitably results in a zero-sum game: whoever wins the debate will force the other side to abide by their values. By invading the private lives of its citizens in this manner, the government facilitates a cultural clash that undermines social cohesion and creates political turmoil.

By abolishing the requirement for government approved marriage licenses, the Alabama Senate is moving to placate anxieties on both sides of the debate.

Ousting the government from the personal lives of its citizens means that same-sex couples will no longer feel marginalised by government, whilst opponents can maintain their traditional conception of marriage without fear of top-down changes to the definition.

The issue of same-sex marriage needn’t be a zero-sum game, nor does it need to be a political one. The Alabama Senate has recognised that if it uses its power to define marriage, the policy tug-of-war will be unending. Its solution to the acrimonious dispute is to deregulate the institution of marriage. This allows people the freedom to choose the type of marriage they want, leaving the decision to recognise it up to civil society.

Whether there is a right or wrong answer to the same-sex marriage debate is beside the point. The issue is about the legitimacy and social harm of allowing the government to enforce a particular view on society and invade our personal lives.

Damion Otto is a student at the University of Western Australia and a Liberal Party member.


6 thoughts on “Is Alabama about to resolve the marriage dispute?

  1. Good article, and a better resolution to the issue than legislating to change the definition.of a word.
    The reason that the state is involved is to regularise inheritance laws and to encourage stable families that will produce new citizens and maintain the state.

  2. My understanding is that the majority of marriages are performed by civil celebrants.

    OK, Catholics consider marriage to be a sacrament, but that the partners to the marriage confer the sacrament on each other. The priest is only there to officiate.

    While other Christian denominations also perform marriages, what do they believe they are doing, in a religious context? Seems to be no more than asking God’s blessing.

    At the end of the day, irrespective of what ceremony was involved, in law you are only married if the marriage is registered with the particular state’s Registrar.

    Anyone know how Islamic marriages are performed, and are they registered?

    Removing the religious element entirely and turning marriage into a civil contract would be the way to go, after all we are most of way there already.

  3. There was recently the case of the marriage of a 12 year old girl married in an Islamic ceremony. Her husband (so called) and her father wee convicted in court and are now guests of Her Majesty. There may well be marriage laws, but they are not always obeyed. Yes, I know that until fairly recently, the marriage age for girls was 12 years old, but this was changed.

  4. There are criminals who break any law AE. Law breaking is not confined to one religious group.

  5. True, but how many other religious groups break the law by performing a form of marriage for 12 year old girls in Australia?

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