It may happen, folks. Because of conservative opposition by judges who don't want to deal with same-sex marriages, Alabama is getting closer and closer to just divorcing itself from the wedding process. Marriages will still happen and will still be recognized by the state of Alabama, but government officials won't have anything to do with the process anymore.
Instead, couples will get a "marriage contract form" from the state, fill it out, sign it, declaring that they're getting married of their own free will, get two witnesses to sign it, and turn it into the government for filing (and give them money). They can have whatever wedding ceremony they want or none at all. The government just will not be part of the process of getting married on the front end. On the back end, SB 21 (formerly SB 4), will leave it to the courts if there's any questions related to the legal validity of any marriages or handle any subsequent marital and family strife issues that may come up. So to answer a question when I wrote about this bill a little while ago, the state will recognize marriage contracts for relationships currently considered valid by law. That means yes to same-sex marriages but no to polyamorous marriages. But in the event that group marriage does become legal, Alabama will already be set up to deal with it. They'll just have to alter the form.
The bill has passed the Alabama Senate and is now in the House. But because the state is in a special session to hammer out a budget, it will need a two-thirds vote in the House to pass.
You'd think everybody would be happy with this outcome, but of course not. Alabama gay groups and the American Civil Liberties Union have to complain, even though they're going to actually get everything they want. Except for making some bigot judge pronounce them married apparently. From the Human Rights Campaign:
"There is absolutely no reason to change the way the state of Alabama handles marriages, period. While the bill impacts all Alabamians who wish to get married, it is clearly unnecessary, needless, and being driven by elected officials who oppose marriage equality victories and now wish to score cheap political points because of it. Frankly, It's a ham-handed solution in search of a non-existent problem."
There's also fearmongering that without actual "licenses," the federal government or other states somehow won't be able to know who is or is not actually married, which is silly semantic nonsense. There will be records filed with the state in this system. I wouldn't put it past any number of dumb-ass bureaucrats to be "confused" for some reason, but that's not an argument for anything. Maybe the other states should just follow suit and let the citizens tell them when they're married.
Yes, obviously the reasons behind this move are bigoted, but just stop, please. This doesn't need to be a scorched earth war. Apparently now that they've won, they forgot why the entire marriage battle happened in the first place. It was because the government was controlling who and who not could be married? Remember that whole thing? Getting government as much out of the process as possible is a positive for everybody. We have gay marriage recognition and it's awesome. Taking control of marriage out of the hands of judgmental government officials is even better. That's what actual liberty looks like—you telling the government that you're married, not the other way around.
UPDATE: A majority of the House voted in favor of eliminating licenses, but it did not meet the two-thirds threshold to pass in the special session. It's dead for now, but could return in the regular session in February. In the regular session, it would not need the special two-thirds majority approval.