Marriage in Alabama is a big deal. In fact, that’s true of the South in general. As an institution it’s seen as sacrosanct, hallowed and too important to be disrupted or tampered with. Alabama politicians love to remind us of this. It’s why during campaign season we’re bombarded with images of politicians and would-be politicians posed with their spouse and children.

Such images are meant to convey that he or she has, at the core of their beliefs, the importance and primacy of the family unit. As the family goes, we’re told, so goes society.  

The word “family” in these parts has been given a narrow definition, and much effort and financial capital (taxpayer money) is put into ensuring that what constitutes a family remains strictly construed. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld marriages for gay couples last year, the reaction politically in Alabama was swift and strong.

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore once again became a household name with his efforts to thwart the high court’s ruling, directing Alabama probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At this time, some probate judges in the state don’t issue marriage licenses at all to avoid issuing them to same-sex couples.

Two weeks ago the Alabama Legislature waded back into the fray by putting together legislation attempting to get the state out of the marriage license-issuing business altogether. Senate Bill 143 would require couples to file a form recording their marriage, instead of the normal procedure where county probate offices issue licenses.

Rather than receiving a marriage license, couples would sign affidavits agreeing to enter into a civil contract, and the state would just record the agreement in lieu of having a marriage license issued. Because of the absolute necessity of needing a lawyer to get married if the bill becomes law, it’s become mockingly known as the “Alabama Threeway” bill.

Although many have noted the bill is fraught with all types of negative ramifications, such criticism is being brushed aside by the author and supporters of the bill. Birmingham judge Brian Huff observed, “Why cause all these problems if the current system isn’t broken?”

Alabama would be the only state in the nation to go down this odd and questionable road. Unfortunately, as a state we have a history of going down the wrong paths.

A path taken to deny same-sex couples the right to adopt in Alabama was strongly rebuked recently by SCOTUS. In an unanimous — yes, 8-0 — decision, the Supreme Court declared the state of Alabama had no right to not recognize the adoption of a child by a same-sex couple who moved to Alabama from Georgia. Not one Supreme Court justice agreed with Alabama.

But with the possibilities of having legalized same-sex marriages and same-sex families in the state, many of our political leaders feel no taxpayer expense is too great and no legislation, no matter how convoluted, is too trivial if it’s meant to try and preserve the sacrosanct institutions of marriage and family as they have been traditionally defined.

Yet one of the most ironic twists of Gov. Robert Bentley’s very public and disastrous affair is how it shines a light on the utter hypocrisy in trying to deny homosexuals in this state the ability to have what heterosexuals have been messing up for some time. Maybe — and unfortunately that’s a very doubtful maybe — but just maybe Bentley’s ruinous affair will help humanize this whole matter. Maybe it will help this state’s politicians see that who a person chooses to love and marry should be their own business.

Politicians are elected to maintain and promote the civil affairs of this state, not serve as de facto religious authorities. When they try to do so, situations like what Gov. Bentley has got himself into are sure to follow, and such actions end up tainting not just the political class but the religious groups with which such politicians so closely align themselves.

It’s a wonderful thing when two people love each other and are committed to each other. If that love and commitment leads to a stable and successful marriage, along with family and home life, doesn’t society benefit? If they are able to raise a child or children in a loving, supportive environment, will not the community they are in win in the end? Isn’t “different yet successful” better than “normal yet dysfunctional”?

In our state civic virtue and religious virtue are often blurred or at the very least intertwined. However, it’s much more important for our leaders to promote and model civic virtues rather than a religious purity that ends up lacking compassion, and unfortunately whose religious tenets are often egregiously violated by the very same leaders. This ends up tainting, often unfairly, religion as a whole.

The things that make for a healthy society mirror what makes for a healthy family: respect, valuing of another, sacrifice, tolerance, honesty, etc. Our society will not be destroyed through the allowance of same-sex marriages. But it will be if we don’t cherish and display those characteristics that make for a just environment that recognizes, respects and values all of its people.