Treated as non-humans by Southern state laws in the decades prior to and during the war, slaves were not allowed to marry. Many slave couples compensated by engaging in simple rituals signifying informal marriages.
White Baptist leaders of the South remained defiantly supportive of black slavery throughout the war, although some voiced support of laws disallowing slaves to marry as one of the reasons God prevented the South from winning battles during the second half of the war.
Now, Freedmen’s Bureaus, operated by Northern whites, are in the process of assisting Reconstruction governments in the passing of laws to bring a variety of everyday freedoms to freedmen, including legal marriages.
Today the Alabama State Convention passes legislation legalizing former slave unions. State officials inform freedpersons of the law but make no effort to issue or register marriage licenses or certificates in the state.
In Florida and Georgia, meanwhile, both under control of the Freedmen’s Bureau, “marriage rules” are implemented. “The marriage rules outlined the duties of former slave couples and who was eligible to marry and remarry, who could grant permits and solemnize marriages, the responsibilities of husbands to former wives, and the rights of wives and children.”
Progress thus slowly unfolds as black citizens of the South are granted some semblance of freedoms long enjoyed by white citizens.
Source: Reginald Washington, “Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records” (link)