February 13, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Lawsuit challenges Alabama same-sex marriage ban
David Fancher, Paul Hard, SPLC, Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

David Fancher (on left) and Paul Hard at their wedding. (Photo courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center)

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit that challenges Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban.

The organization, which is based in Montgomery, Ala., brought the case on behalf of Paul Hard, who married Charles David Fancher in Massachusetts in May 2011. Fancher died in a car accident less than three months later after he hit an overturned UPS truck on I-65 outside of Montgomery – a wrongful death lawsuit was later filed in his name.

Alabama law says a surviving spouse is entitled to receive the majority of any settlement money, but the state does not recognize Hard and Fancher’s wedding because voters in 2006 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

“They create two, unequal, classes of married couples living in the State of Alabama: those married couples who enjoy all the protections afforded to people who are married, including the right of a surviving spouse to recover proceeds in a wrongful death action, and those married couples, like Paul and David, who do not,” reads the lawsuit. “The obvious purpose of the Sanctity Laws is to punish and demean citizens who have entered one type of marriage, but not the other.

Alabama is among the 32 states that ban same-sex marriage.

Out state Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), who married her long-time partner in Massachusetts in 2013, last November introduced a bill that would have repealed Alabama’s gay nuptials ban.

Six gay and lesbian couples in neighboring Florida last month filed a lawsuit challenging their state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Missouri on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of eight same-sex couples who are seeking recognition of their marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions. The Forum for Equality Louisiana on the same day filed an identical lawsuit in a federal court in New Orleans on behalf of four gay and lesbian couples who legally married outside the Pelican State.

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

A judge last month found Oklahoma’s gay nuptials ban unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court less than two weeks earlier blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah pending the outcome of an appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby’s December ruling that struck down the state’s gay nuptials ban.

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto on Feb. 10 announced she will no longer defend her state’s same-sex marriage ban in court.

A ruling in a federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s gay nuptials ban is expected in the coming days.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore last week urged all 50 state governors to allow their legislatures to call for a convention to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” Gov. Robert Bentley last September said he would not allow the Alabama National Guard to extend benefits to members’ same-sex partners in spite of a directive the Pentagon issued after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

“The moral foundation of our country is under attack,” Moore told the Associated Press.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Feb. 10 announced the Justice Department will now recognize same-sex marriages in civil and criminal cases and extend full benefits to gay spouses of police officers and other public safety personnel killed while on duty. This new policy applies to Alabama and the 31 other states that currently do not recognize same-sex marriage.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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