MONTGOMERY—The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced a federal lawsuit today challenging Alabama laws that refuse to recognize lawful same-sex marriages – unconstitutional laws that are creating legal obstacles for a man whose husband was killed in a car wreck.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on behalf of Paul Hard. It seeks to overturn the state’s Marriage Protection Act, a 1998 law that bans the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states, and the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which enshrined this ban in the constitution in 2005.
The suit also demands that Hard receive his rightful share of the proceeds from a pending wrongful death suit, and that Alabama issue a corrected death certificate for his deceased husband, David Fancher, listing Hard as the surviving spouse.
“Alabama has created two classes of marriages within its borders and deemed one of those classes – marriages between people of the same sex – to be inferior to the other,” said David C. Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “This is unconstitutional.
“The only purpose of refusing Paul the right to share in the proceeds from the wrongful death lawsuit is to punish him for having married a man, and to express moral disapproval of this choice. These purposes are improper and unconstitutional. Alabama must treat its LGBT citizens with equal dignity and respect under the law.”
Hard and Fancher were married in Massachusetts in May 2011, and Fancher died in a Prattville hospital the following August.
When Hard arrived at the hospital following an early morning crash, a receptionist refused to give him any information about Fancher, telling him he was not a member of Fancher’s “family” and that gay marriages weren’t recognized in Alabama. After a half hour of inquiries, a hospital orderly finally told Hard, “Well, he’s dead.”
Adding to the indignity, a funeral home director cited Alabama law in insisting that the death certificate indicate Fancher was never married.
A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the trucking companies involved in the wreck. Fancher had collided in the dark with a large truck strewn across the northbound lanes of I-65 north of Montgomery.
In Alabama, however, proceeds from a wrongful death case must be distributed pursuant to the laws of intestate succession (even though David died with a will and Paul was the sole beneficiary). And because Alabama refuses to recognize lawful same-sex marriages entered out of state, current state law means that Paul cannot be deemed the surviving spouse and cannot share in the proceeds of the lawsuit.
“Southerners are generally good-hearted people and will recognize when a person is being unfairly treated in life’s worst moments,” said Hard, a lifelong Alabamian who once was a Baptist preacher. “Most married couples take for granted that if tragedy strikes they can proceed through the worst of times without the state saying at every turn that their marriage doesn’t even exist. Marriages are significant, and my marriage is due the same respect as any other.”
The lawsuit outlines how the Marriage Protection Act and the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly infringe on intimate, personal relationships without any adequate justification.
A copy of the lawsuit can be viewed here.