February 13, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay Alabama widower: State saw relationship as ‘nothing’

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)

Charles David Fancher proposed to Paul Hard three months after the Montgomery, Ala., men’s first date on July 4, 2004.

Hard, 55, accepted Fancher’s proposal six years later – and they exchanged vows on a Massachusetts beach on May 20, 2011. Fancher, 53, died less than three months later when his car crashed into a UPS truck that had overturned on an Alabama interstate.

Hard filed a wrongful death lawsuit, but he would not be able to receive the majority of any settlement money because the state does not recognize him as a surviving spouse.

“At every turn and every juncture, particularly following his death, I was treated as though this relationship was nothing,” Hard told the Washington Blade on Thursday after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit challenging Alabama’s gay nuptials ban that prohibits the state from recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Alabama voters in 2006 by an 81-19 vote margin approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Out state Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), who married her long-time partner in Massachusetts in 2013, last November introduced a bill that sought to repeal the state’s gay nuptials ban.

Hard said hospital personnel initially refused to allow him to see his husband, even though he had he brought the couple’s marriage license and other legal documents with him. An attendant roughly half an hour later told Hard that Fancher had died.

The director of the funeral home that buried Fancher said on his death certificate that he was “never married” and did not have a surviving spouse. Hard said the funeral home director refused to change the information on the document.

“I was seen to have been fully enough his husband to pay the bills and wrap-up his estate, but the state of Alabama refuses to acknowledges his relationship,” Hard told the Blade.

He added “no one deserves to through what I had to go through” after Fancher’s death.

“No one should have to suffer indignity at the hands of the state at the worst extremity of human existence when you lose someone,” said Hard. “No one would ever suggest to a widow and their church or their community organization that they should not pursue their rights as a widow. And I’m no different than anybody like that.”

Hard, who grew up as a Southern Baptist as his late husband did, told the Blade his family is overall supportive of his decision to seek recognition of his marriage in Alabama.

“Some of them don’t support gay marriage, but they have looked at me and simply said David has the right to leave to whomever he chose his estate,” he said.

Sam Wolfe, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said as he and Hard spoke to the Blade it was time to file the lawsuit in the wake of last June’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and other recent rulings.

“Alabamians can’t wait forever and there is a bit of a wave going on in the country both on the topic of marriage and other issues relating to equality and basic dignity for LGBT people,” said Wolfe. “There are real families here like Paul and his family that are affected negatively, that are harmed by this law. We have the legal arguments at our disposal and we’re taking it to federal court to knock down this law.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed its lawsuit one day after a federal judge ruled Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

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 out-of-state marriages. The Forum for Equality Louisiana on the same day filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four gay and lesbian couples who legally exchanged vows outside the Pelican State.

A judge last month ruled Oklahoma’s gay marriage ban is 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 ruling late last year that struck down the state’s gay nuptials ban.

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

Same-sex couples in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states have filed marriage lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling. A measure that would ban same-sex marriage in the Hoosier State will not go before voters this year after the Indiana Senate adjourned on Thursday without considering any amendments on the proposal.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s Feb. 10 announcement that 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 applies to Alabama and the 31 other states that have yet to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states that ban gay nuptials.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange are among those named as defendants in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lawsuit.

Bentley’s spokesperson, Jennifer Ardis, told the Associated Press on Thursday the governor believes in the “traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.” Ardis said Bentley would defend the state’s gay nuptials ban in court.

Wolfe told the Blade there have been “a lot” of positive reactions to the lawsuit. He said local officials have also said they plan to fight it “to the bitter end.”

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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