Lawsuit Challenges Ala. Anti-Gay Marriage Law
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A gay man whose partner was killed in a car accident has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Alabama laws that bar the recognition of his marriage, which took place in Massachusetts.
The lawsuit, filed in Montgomery federal court, seeks to force Alabama to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that allow them. Lawyers said the bans are unconstitutional and treat Alabama gays and lesbians as second-class citizens.
"The sanctity laws silence and demean lesbian and gay Alabamians by sending a clear message: You are less than other citizens and your relationships mean nothing here," said Samuel E. Wolfe, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing the plaintiff.
Notice of the lawsuit was delivered to Alabama’s governor and attorney general Thursday, Wolfe said.
The suit - coming just one day after a federal judge in Kentucky struck down that state’s similar ban - was initiated by Paul Hard, 55, of Montgomery. Hard says he was treated cruelly after the death of his husband, David Fancher, virtually ignored at the Alabama hospital where Fancher was taken after the accident.
Hard said he is also fighting to be considered as the surviving spouse in ongoing litigation over Fancher’s death.
Fancher, 53, died within moments of the crash, but Hard said hospital staff refused to give him any information about his condition because the two weren’t considered legally related. An orderly later passed on the news that Fancher had died, Hard said.
The pain was compounded when the death certificate listed Fancher as never married. Hard said he futilely begged to have that changed.
"If I can let people know how this law unjustly and cruelly affects people, I will do it. Ultimately, I hope these laws are overturned so it no longer gives folks permission to treat Americans as second-class citizens," Hard said.
The Alabama Legislature in 1998 approved the Defense of Marriage Act that said Alabama would not recognize same-sex unions. Alabamians in 2006 voted to put a similar ban in the state constitution.
That vote proved that the state’s residents believe "marriage in our state exists only between a man and a woman," said Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard in a statement criticizing the lawsuit.
"This lawsuit is part of a coordinated liberal agenda that is designed to erode the conservative Alabama values that the citizens of our state hold close to their hearts," Hubbard said.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string challenging gay marriage bans in socially conservative states.
In addition to Kentucky, federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma also recently that struck down gay marriage bans in those states. A case is also awaiting a federal judge’s decision in Virginia
Couples in Louisiana and Missouri filed similar challenges this week.
Southern Poverty Law Center David Dinielli said the lawsuit relies on the precedent set by the case that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. He said he hopes the case will continue a trend of federal judges finding the state bans unconstitutional.
Like recent challenges in other states, the lawsuit asserts that the Alabama laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating gays and lesbians differently than heterosexual couples.
Dinielli said the lawsuit was filed in Montgomery federal court because Fancher and Hard both lived in the city and that Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange are defendants in the case.
Strange’s office said it had no comment. Jennifer Ardis, Bentley’s communications director, said the governor believes in the "traditional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman" and would fight the lawsuit.
Hard, a therapist and former Baptist preacher, and Fancher married in a 2011 ceremony in Massachusetts, one of the states that allow same-sex couples to wed.
Part of the legal peg for the lawsuit is that Hard can’t be considered the surviving spouse and can’t collect any judgment in the ongoing wrongful death litigation over the crash. However, Hard said his motivation is principle, not money.
Hard said he believed Fancher, who he said was a strong advocate for the gay community, would be proud.
"I think, frankly, he would tell me to go for it," Hard said.