Happy February, friends! It’s been a very exciting year already, and as many of you have noticed, this might turn out to be a very happy Valentine’s Day for a lot of folks in our area.

Many of us are still reeling from a recent announcement that sent shock waves through our community and triggered fierce debates over a big change to a fundamental American institution. While some consider it a revolting sign of the continued degradation of our society, others delight in the fact it encourages people to celebrate and openly express their love.

Of course I’m talking about last week’s big announcement that from now through Valentine’s Day, much loved/hated fast food giant McDonalds will be accepting public displays of affection in lieu of payment. The promotional offer, known as “Pay with Lovin’,” will allow randomly selected customers to “pay” for their orders by performing certain acts including hugging their companion, calling their mom to say “I love you,” or even dancing with the cashier.

Aww, that’s really sweet McDonalds. And to think people complain the only thing you ever gave us was diabetes and crappy wages!

If that’s not exciting enough for all you lovers out there,
we’ve also had some very big news in the world of family law! I was beyond thrilled to learn that our state is expected to become the 37th in the nation to allow same sex partners to marry. Hooray!

This has been a rapidly changing story, but as of my deadline federal Judge Ginny Granade has ruled that there is no constitutional basis for denying gays the right to marry. She further clarified that her ruling applies to all government officials and that Alabama must begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

The initial excitement was tempered somewhat when she followed up by issuing a 14-day stay in the case, allowing the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals time to weigh in, but if things proceed as expected by most, same sex couples will be able to legally marry in the state of Alabama beginning Feb. 9.

Wow, it’s about time! Those who know me well know this issue is very close to my heart, for personal and professional reasons, and hearing the ruling was one of those moments I’ll likely remember for the rest of my life. The past week has been a blur of hugs, tears, and celebration, but of course I understand that it’s not quite over yet.

As expected, various groups are doing their best to drag Alabama kicking and screaming back into darkness, and if it were up to them I have little doubt we’d claim our rightful place as the 49th state (sorry Mississippi!) to begrudgingly recognize gay marriage after the upcoming Supreme Court case sets things right once and for all. (At least I hope so, anyway!)

Of course it wasn’t any big shock to see so much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but it does seem like a terribly sad and petty waste of time and resources and by now I’ve mostly stopped listening. See, I’ve been up and down this road a thousand times trying to understand where gay rights opponents are coming from, intellectually (i.e., not emotionally).

I’ve listened to neighbors, strangers on the Internet, political pundits, and even other attorneys I genuinely respect, and it’s always more of the same old arguments that simply can’t hold up to hard reason. In well over a decade of listening with an open heart and mind, I have never heard even one sensible and intelligent reason to deny gay couples the right to marry. Not. Even. One.

It’s a heartbreaking thing as a family law attorney to sit across from another human being, look them in the eye, and explain laws that were clearly created by people who consider them an abomination and disgrace to society. They already know this, of course, but people still call all the time wondering if perhaps their situation is not quite as bad as they assumed. In most cases thus far, it’s been worse than they thought.

When asked if they’re interested in fighting, perhaps calling in the help of deeper pockets and more experienced attorneys, most folks just sigh and quietly decline. “I’m not trying to change the world. I just want to be left alone to live a normal life,” is a common refrain.

So we do what we can instead, drafting wills, joint deeds, health care directives, powers of attorney and any other documents we can think of to protect their rights as much as possible. But it’s not enough, and it’s never been enough.

Until I started handling divorces, I didn’t fully realize how many protections are afforded by marriage that just aren’t available through any other means, even civil unions (and we don’t even have that small luxury in Alabama). There is simply no “separate but equal” equivalent, nor should there be.

Marriage means so much to so many of us, and we all know it’s so much more than just a collection of rights and responsibilities. It’s a way to make a family. Not the only way, of course, but it’s such a fundamental part of our society that it has long been held a basic right offered even to murderers serving life sentences.

Many homosexuals have been denied basic human dignity and have been effectively living as second-class citizens for absolutely no valid reason. This type of sustained discrimination seems sharply at odds with so many of the sacred principles our country stands for, and it’s just a damn shame we let it go on for so long. I feel certain this will be something we all look back on one day and wonder what the heck was wrong with us and how something so blatantly obvious once seemed so controversial.

Until then, keep the faith. And Happy Valentine’s Day! Love will win!