States seek divorce from marriage business

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Laila Flores, left, celebrates as Chip O' Kelly, partially seen, holds a sign in downtown Atlanta following the Supreme Court's ruling that made gay marriage constitutional across the nation, Friday, June 26, 2015. (BRANDEN CAMP/AJC FILE PHOTO)

The perfect neighbor is so quiet you begin to doubt their existence.

Unfortunately for Georgia our neighbors are Alabama and Tennessee.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems the folks living across the border enjoy making news. Usually, it’s because they’ve elected someone who thinks marriage is as sacred an institution as reality TV.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigned from office last year after a sex scandal so extensive it has its own website.

The “Luv Guv” ran two successful gubernatorial campaigns as a Christian conservative, but, while teaching Sunday school, he met a married, former Miss Alabama contestant and asked her to become his adviser. Their alleged affair came to light when the septuagenarian governor gave his wife, Dianne, a state-issued iPad with access to the software he was using to send messages to his mistress.

The jig was up when Dianne Bentley’s iPad parroted a message from her husband saying “I love you Rebekah.” Before long the governor lost his job, his wife of 50 years divorced him, his mistress resigned and her husband, Jon, was no longer pulling down $90K a year to run the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Services.

In January, Nashville, Tenn., Mayor Megan Barry admitted an affair with her security chief, Rob Forrest. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation found pictures of a nude woman on Forrest’s government-issued phone that were taken at a time his time card said he was “working.” The woman has not been positively identified, but a purse on the hotel bed appears to be the same one Barry is carrying in other photos Forrest took of the mayor on their business trip to Washington, D.C.

Barry, 54, has no plans to resign, and says the photos are an invasion of her privacy. Forrest, who like Barry is married, retired after reports of the affair emerged.

The moral of those two stories? Voters make mistakes and haphazard use of technology leaves a trail of evidence Scooby-Doo could follow.

Speaking of voter mistakes, I would be remiss in not reminding you of the once-and-future mayor of Talladega, Ala., Larry Barton, who was re-elected after serving a three-year federal prison sentence for money laundering during his third term in office.

In 2015, Barton, who was 75 at the time and working part time as a barber, was getting out his car to go cut some hair when he was nearly beaten to death by a man in a trench coat wielding a baseball bat. Fortunately for Barton, the assailant, 71-year-old Benny Green, lacked home run power and he survived. Unfortunately for him, voters heard he may have starred on a sex tape with Mrs. Green and he failed to win a fifth term.

Talladega Nights, indeed.

Alabama, that shining of light of virtue blinding us from the west, has been reluctant to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Some probate judges have refused to issue any licenses since February 2015 when a federal judge struck down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state laws banning gay marriage later that summer.

NPR reports lawmakers in Alabama and several other states are considering doing away with marriage licenses altogether. Instead of a license issued by probate judge, couples would simply sign and submit a form, and continue paying the same fee, of course. A wedding ceremony would no longer be required.

Legal experts say Alabama can get out of the marriage business because state law says probate courts “may” issue marriage licenses, not “shall.”

Georgia’s law (O.C.G.A. § 19-3-3) says the probate court “shall” issue licenses, but lawmakers could revise it and follow Alabama’s lead.

Who thinks Georgia legislators will eventually get around to changing one tiny word in marriage law?

I do.

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