By Bob Smietana
If David Fowler has his way, Tennessee will get out of the marriage business.
Until then, Christian couples may want to skip being legally wed, says Fowler, head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee.
Getting a marriage license today, Fowler argues, means that couples must agree to the state’s new definition of marriage based on the legal rulings that allow for same-sex marriage.
“The couple must then ask themselves this question: Do they want a marriage the law will recognize badly enough that they will sign the forms?” he wrote in a recent blog post.
Fowler also recently testified against a bill that would have raised the marriage age in Tennessee to 18 years. Passing that bill, he argued, might undermine a lawsuit Fowler is backing, which challenges Tennessee marriage laws.
Earlier this month, state officials put the anti-child marriage bill on hold but reversed that decision on March 8.
The lawsuit claims that Tennessee’s marriage laws are “invalid and unenforceable since the Obergefell decision.” It asks the courts to ban the state from issuing marriage licenses.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several Tennessee ministers—who want to hold religious weddings that don’t include a marriage license.
“Some people think the state should regulate marriage, and I do not,” Fowler told state legislators recently.
He is not alone.
Earlier this year, the Alabama Senate passed a bill to stop the state from issuing marriage licenses. Judges would no longer perform marriages under the bill. Instead, couples would submit documents to a probate judge, saying they are married.
“The documents include an affidavit saying that the spouses are at least 18, or at least 16 and have parental consent, are not currently married and are not related by blood or adoption,” according to AL.com.
Current Alabama law requires marrying couples to receive a marriage license from a probate judge and have a ceremony to “solemnize” their union.
Sen. Greg Albritton said the main goal of the bill is to sever the link between a religious ceremony and the state.
In Tennessee, Fowler proposes that a registry of common law marriages replace marriage licenses.
NPR reports five other states—Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Montana—have also tried to get out of the marriage business.
So far all have failed.
The Alabama bill remains stalled in the state’s House of Representatives. The House speaker says it’s unlikely to pass.
Among the bill’s opponents: wedding business owners. They wonder if people will give up on wedding ceremonies if they can’t get a marriage license.
“You won’t be getting married at that wedding if this law passes,” Don Boozer, owner of the wedding venue Applewood Farms, told AL.com.
“You might have a minister read some, you might exchange vows. You might have some sort of ceremony. But ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’ will be totally meaningless because that man and wife union happens at the courthouse.”
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.