After four hours of often heated debate, Alabama's House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill assuring that no probate judge, minister, or church will be required to perform or solemnize a same-sex marriage, reports the Associated Press.
Alabama's "Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act," or House Bill 56, passed the state House by a vote of 69-25, according to Birmingham TV station WBRC. The legislation now moves on to the Republican-controlled Senate.
But even the bill's key sponsor, former judge and current Republican Rep. Jim Hill, admitted that he has never encountered a report of a judge or minister forced to marry a same-sex couple. Nevertheless, he introduced the legislation "to clarify the law," because he had fielded questions from ministers and judges about whether they were required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the AP.
"It's not discriminatory," House Speaker Mike Hubbard told WBRC. "It's actually just clarifying the fact that a person can make their own personal decision based on."
As with similar legislation recently introduced and passed by the state Senate in North Carolina, Hill's bill does not explicitly mention same-sex marriage or LGBT people. It does, however, offer protection from civil or criminal penalties for ministers, churches, and religiously affiliated organizations that refuse to perform, host, or recognize a same-sex wedding. Those protections also extend to probate judges, the publicly elected judges who are responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Alabama.
But the state's only out lawmaker called out the legislation for what it is.
"Nothing in this bill is going to change anything. It's just pandering," said Rep. Patricia Todd, a Democrat and out lesbian. "Let's deal with the real issues facing Alabama. This isn't one of them."
Todd grew emotional as she spoke on the House floor against the bill, saying "this is the first time I've had to stand up here and defend my community and myself."
She also introduced an amendment that would require public officials and religious institutions refusing to serve same-sex couples to post a public notice of their discriminatory practices. The bill, along with another from a fellow Democrat that sought to remove the word "recognition" from the bill, both failed, reports AL.com, a website for several Alabama newspapers.
Meanwhile, an state-level judge granted a divorce to a same-sex couple in Alabama Thursday according to AL.com, even as the state remains engrossed in legal wrangling over whether such unions must be recognized in the wake of a federal judge's January order -- which took effect February 9 -- striking down Alabama's ban on marriage equality.
Watch WBRC's report on Thursday's vote below.
MyFoxAL.com - FOX6 WBRC Birmingham, AL