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Alabama no longer requires marriage licenses or solemnization... What does that mean, and will other states follow?

Published Thursday, Jan. 28th, 2021

Understanding Alabama's new Marriage Certificate process



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AMM Audio Articles · Understanding Alabama's Marriage Certificate Process




Couples in Alabama no longer need to apply for a marriage license, or hold a wedding ceremony, to be legally wed. Instead, they'll file a notarized Marriage Certificate.


What does this mean for AMM Ministers and Officiants in the state, and for the future in other states?


Let’s take a look! 



Some background: 

In 2019, Act Number 2019 - 340 changed the state’s rules on the marriage process. Now, for a marriage to be valid, couples in Alabama must file a completed and notarized marriage certificate with the county probate court to show they’ve voluntarily entered into a marriage contract. This updated process removes the need for a marriage to be solemnized, or for a wedding ceremony to take place, although couples can still take the traditional approach if they want to. 


This raises four important questions: whether or not ordination is required to perform marriage in Alabama, what the difference is between a license and a certificate, what couples need to do to get married in this Deep South state, and whether or not other states will change their rules, doing away with solemnization and licenses altogether. 


To simplify things, let’s look at each of these in turn:

1. Do you still need to be ordained to perform a marriage ceremony in Alabama?


No. Marriages no longer need to be solemnized in Alabama, which means that couples don’t need to hold a wedding ceremony, and that any optional, voluntary celebration they do hold can be performed by anyone -- ordained or not.


If couples still want a traditional wedding ceremony, they can have one. And if couples want someone ordained by a church to lead that ceremony (such as ordination through AMM), for example to honor a particular faith or spiritual tradition, they can! Many couples will still seek out professional wedding officiants with experience performing memorable ceremonies.


(If you’re leading a friend’s wedding celebration in Alabama, check out our resources on the parts of a wedding ceremony and how to prepare a script so you know just what to say on the happy day!)



2. What’s the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate? 


A marriage license is a legal document issued by a government office in charge of marriages in the county or state in which a ceremony is held. Marriage certificates can be either legal documents (official) or non-legal keepsakes (commemorative).


An official marriage certificate, or certified certificate of marriage, is a form filed with a government office to record a legal marriage. A commemorative certificate is not a legal document -- these are decorative mementos celebrating the union, and are often framed and displayed by the couple. 


Under the new Alabama rules, official marriage certificates replace marriage licenses. Marriages become legal “when the properly completed, signed and notarized Alabama Marriage Certificate form is recorded by an Alabama probate court. The marriage form must be delivered to the probate court within 30 days of the latter of the dates of the spouses’ signatures for the marriage to be valid.” (via Alabama Public Health, Vital Records)


3. What do couples need to do to get married in Alabama?


Adults (18+) in Alabama will need to complete and submit an Alabama Marriage Certificate. The form is located on the Alabama Public Health website, and can be filled out electronically and printed for signing. After notarizing the certificate, it must be delivered to a state probate court within 30 days (of the date of the second spouse’s signature) to be recorded. 


For a full list of FAQ on the new Marriage Certificate process, visit this page. Couples are also encouraged to contact their county probate court for recent information and changes. 



4. Will other states follow Alabama's lead? 


It’s possible! AMM believes that the marriage process should be as democratic and equal as possible, and we support states choosing to remove or change the requirements for solemnization. Several states, including Hawaii, New York, and New Hampshire among others, have recently considered (or are currently considering) legislation that would change the rules around solemnization, such as allowing individuals to solemnize weddings on a one-time basis.


Updated August 16, 2021


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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

Natasha Anakotta
Natasha Anakotta

Guest Contributor

Natasha is passionate about promoting marriage equality, and encouraging couples to celebrate in a way that’s authentic and unique. Aside from weddings, she enjoys Star Wars, true crime podcasts, and eating macarons by the dozen.

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